Mongrel renegades, castaways, and cannibals

So Herman Melville described the crew of the Pequod. While it probably seems tendentious to equate them to the Internet MANA party, that seems to be how Kim Dotcom, at least, regards himself — as Captain Ahab, nailing his doubloon to the mast and urging them to seek the destruction of his Prime Ministerial Moby-Dick. But in spite of the many failings he, or Ishmael, attributed to them, that crew were good people, enormously effective, and very nearly successful in their hopeless task of hunting a single whale across all the oceans of the world.

In spite of Dotcom’s megalomania, Key — unlike the white whale — just doesn’t care that much. But in any case, the hauling-together of two unlikely vessels that form the Internet MANA alliance is more interesting than one rich eccentric’s personal grudge, or his attempts to avoid extradition.

The conventional reading of Internet MANA — even among some on the left — is that Kim Dotcom has colonised the Mana movement, buying himself a tame savage who’ll do his dirty work for him. But I don’t think so: I think the Internet Party is trying to bite off more than it can chew.

The Mana movement has always been about those outside the political mainstream. Even while he was forced into collaboration, Hone Harawira was plain about his radicalism. His legacy — barring some major change — is unlikely to be that period, or Te Mana, but the previous three decades of dogged activism in service of his people. One of these was his role in the haka party incident which demonstrated — or rather, reiterated after a long hiatus — to Pākehā New Zealand that Māori were’t going to take it.

Even so, if it were just Harawira this colonisation line might be fair — he’s a tough and principled guy, but running a fringe party without a benefactor — in the form of an electoral liege, or a millionaire backer, or both — is hard going. (Ask Winston Peters.) But Harawira is not alone. Both Annette Sykes and John Minto have decades of unglamorous and largely unrewarded activism behind them, and enormous credibility. Not among the National and Labour-voting public, but in radical and Māori circles, where it counts for their purposes. There is clearly some division — Sue Bradford quit the party, prompting a rush of right-wingers who have for decades said the most vile things about her to praise her integrity. But all in all, few people who know them believe that all of Harawira, Minto, and Sykes can be bought, in one go.

To which add Laila Harré. Many people have written that her appointment as leader of the Internet Party brings it credibility, and I agree. It is a brave, or reckless, appointment from Kim Dotcom’s perspective, because Harré is bigger than he is and, if elected, will influence the party more by leading it than he will by funding it — especially when his largesse runs out, as it inevitably will. Her parliamentary achievements have been limited because of her commitment to activism, but her record outside parliament has been more significant. She has demonstrated she can’t be bought, and is willing to hold her own line and walk away from a bad political situation, even when the stakes are very high.

What’s cleverest about this alliance is how neatly it separates ends and means. Morgan Godfery has argued persuasively that the alliance is a deeply conventional bit of strategy and an obvious next-step, from a Māori nationalist perspective, both mainstream and nationalist-insurgent political vehicles for Tino Rangatiratanga having been thoroughly co-opted by mainstream (white) imperatives. I would say further that it indicates a strategic maturity we have not yet seen from Māori parliamentary parties, and an elaboration of the māori party’s strategy of pragmatic coupling, though this time, to a vehicle it can more readily control. At least in this case, the Internet Party’s agenda is clear.

The two parties seem incongruous, and they are — but what they have in common is a claim to stand for those who feel like mainstream politics doesn’t speak for them, or listen to them. Both parties have links to the Occupy movement, and the policy platforms are pitched at groups with some core interests in common: those who are (or feel) criminalised or oppressed by the mainstream, and who wish to disrupt it. These include tech-libertarians and utopian futurists, internet “pirates” and disaffected geeks, anti-GCSB and TPPA activists, land rights and Māori sovereignty activists, actual socialists (as opposed to the Labour kind), the very poor and economically marginalised (especially rural, Māori), marijuana smokers, and a more fringey element of anti-Fluoride campaigners and other assorted cranks and conspiracists. In aggregate it seems clear that these people comprise more than 5% of the electorate — if only you can get them to vote. And that’s what Kim Dotcom’s millions are for: not so much to persuade them of a single, coherent policy platform, but to fly a radical banner to which the disruptors can flock. For this purpose they need not be all of one kind.

Te Mana has its own marginal voters, which comprise less than 1% of the electorate, and because of the difficulty of persuading it seems unlikely the Internet Party will mobilise much more. But a party vote total of 1.5% should see a second MP, and anything much above 2% should see a third, and this does not seem totally implausible. Even if these are “new” voters — not drawn from Labour or Greens — this probably comes at cost to the wider left if mainstream swing-voters are scared from Labour to National by the prospect of a left coalition including Internet MANA, as Danyl and Russell Brown have suggested. It might well be that the success of Internet MANA weakens Labour’s prospects, but it seems to have little chance of victory anyway, and has declared against Internet MANA, so a robust challenge from the left — as well as the one it has had from John Key on the right — is probably a good thing in the long term. What cares Mana for the neoliberal Pākehā Labour party’s fortunes?

Paradoxically, the addition of Internet Party voters would give Mana voters a stronger chance at locking the Internet party — and Harré — out if they are suspicious of Kim Dotcom’s influence. Harawira is facing a strong challenge in Te Tai Tokerau, but Waiariki is also close. If Labour, Green or Māori party voters tactically support Annette Sykes, hers could be the anchor seat. In this case, the second MP (whether he wins Te Tai Tokerau or not) would be Hone Harawira, with Harré third. Given that two or three MPs seems much more plausible than four or five, the most likely outcome seems to be that Te Mana is no worse off, possibly better off, and has a chance to swap Sue Bradford for the much more politically-viable Laila Harré. It looks less like the Internet Party colonising the Mana movement than the opposite.


7 thoughts on “Mongrel renegades, castaways, and cannibals

  1. “The policy platforms are pitched at groups with some core interests in common: those who are (or feel) criminalised or oppressed by the mainstream, and who wish to disrupt it”

    The major difference is that Mana is a party for people who are actually oppressed, while the Internet Party is a party for people who are not oppressed but really, really want to believe they are.

    Or, to put it another way, Mana is a party for people who are angry that the government doesn’t stop them from being unable to feed their kids, while the Internet Party is a party for people who are angry that the government doesn’t ensure that they can get access to Netflix.

  2. Hugh, I think this is a fair assessment. Also, “people who are worried about getting busted for smoking dope” vs “people who actually get sent to prison for smoking dope”, and many similar comparisons that break along the usual lines of class and ethnicity. But nevertheless: it is hard to begrudge those in the former group from accepting the support of those in the latter group, however reluctantly.


  3. • Mana Movement is there in Mangere and Glen Innes regardless of the parliamentary scene. A new Pasifika branch has been formed with some ‘old’ Polynesian Panthers involved, but the young are the reason for hope in Mana (and it seems Internet Party) and they are there in numbers.
    Mana development is uneven by region but is the real deal. The marxist socialists love it because they get an umbrella organisation and profile, while free to retreat to their own sects, and the hoped for crossover with Māori nationalists. There is sometimes genuine respect there too. You get that when facing the state forces and a long history of doing so back to “Cullen’s line” and so on.

    • The beginning of IMP was likely the GCSB/TICs meeting at Mt Albert Auckland when Hone Harawira took a different tack from the middle class speakers in his remarks. He talked about people that did not have such online access as to even be able to be spied upon let alone digitally educated. On the vid Dotcom was watching him with interest. Intellectuals, academics and moneybags have long been occasional supporters of the left, revolutionary and anti establishment causes back to Parvus and beyond. Yes they are prone to vacillation but IMP has an inbuilt use by date if and as required.

    • Internet Party is poised to do more for cannabis reform (inclusive of the urgently needed consideration of medical use) than NORML and ALCP have ever managed so far by virtue of it’s involvement policy and technology. Imagine if Labour’s ‘super at 67’ policy got run by the members at large online what the outcome might be, notwithstanding John Key’s dishonesty on national super.

    • Really the best outcome for Hone and Annette is to run strong campaigns and win their seats on their own terms trusting the voters to “get it” albeit aided by some powerful media reach. Rather than depending upon a ‘cup of tea’ that Matt McCarten is unlikely to be able to pour with the ’nomes in Labour.

    I believed Hone when he told a socialist gathering suspicious of the IMP alliance that young people in his travels had strongly indicated they wanted to be associated with all the perceived good stuff from the internet. And the buzz surrounding Dotcom, rich and kicking against the man too. Why should aspiration be confined to the pro capitalist version?

  4. @Lew: Hah! I wish I’d put it that well.

    The real question is, what is Mana going to do with this infusion of money? I have my doubts as to whether they can effectively turn it into votes.

  5. Excellent analysis Lew. That is the first coherent explanation of the tie up I have read. Dotcon has rapidly traveled a path from supporting ultra establishment ex Police minister Banks to the protest fringe. He is a rallying flag as somebody who has so far successfully bucked the system and the establishment are now trying hard to bring him down. I dont doubt that his motivation is avoiding extradition.

    Tiger – interesting observation of the original meeting.

    The question is whether it will translate into poll support and votes. From what you suggest it would seem they will be able to use the money to turn those into real supporters. Certainly the speed with which the internet party candidates list came out and the real people behind it suggests they should be able to build a decent organisation that Hone on his own did not have the resources to achieve.

  6. TM, that’s really useful background. The last bit in particular — that the youth see in the Internet party what older folks who make up the conventional political strata do not. This will be a challenge for Internet MANA’s leaders — to demonstrate that they are not bound by their demographics.


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