OPINION: Question: Is Kim Dotcom's new "Internet Party":
a) A new party geared towards internet- conversant millennials;
b) Another Left-wing party entering an already crowded field; or
c) Some new force poised to tap into massive disillusionment with politics-as-usual?
No matter what the party's founders intend, the voters will come to their own conclusions. The answer will determine what impact (if any) the new party has on the electoral landscape.
The first possibility would be a potential threat to the National Government. More than a few libertarian-ish millennials vote National by default. The "ish" suffix is appropriate because these voters are not particularly ideological. They can abide neither Labour's slavish political correctness nor the Marxian economics of the Greens. They do not have any particular love for National.
They do care about issues an internet-oriented party could capitalise on.
Take, for instance, the matter of geo-blocking. This occurs when media rights holders prevent access to pay-services by New Zealand addresses. The most obvious example is the popular service Netflix, which streams television and movies over the web for a pretty reasonable cost. Like many such services, it is closed to New Zealanders.
The restriction exists to protect regional copyright licences and monopolies. The result, however, is that our consumers do not have access to the same media conveniences available to others in the English-speaking world. If you're a native internet user, you probably find this very frustrating. A law making geo-blocking unenforceable (or legitimising its circumvention) would be popular with more than National voters.
On the other hand, if the Internet Party is seen as just another anti- John Key party - along with Labour, the Greens, Mana and New Zealand First, then I think any threat to the Government will be negligible. Its existence could even help National in a tight election year.
This could well happen. The British journalist John O'Sullivan has a maxim that all "organisations that are not actually Right-wing will over time become Left-wing". There are different theories for why this is so, but the essential accuracy of the rule is indisputable. There are too many examples to list of institutional religions; charities; media outlets; and trade, industry and professional groups gradually adopting liberal outlooks and agendas.
Indeed, this may have already happened with the Internet Party. For example, in the days after the party launched, the people who appeared most excited about were socialist journalists, political scientists and media personalities.
And on the very day of the launch, the blogger Whale Oil published leaked documents that seemed to show Martyn Bradbury, a Leftist rival, at the ground floor of the party's planning. Broadcaster Wallace Chapman - who is about as emblematic of hipster liberalism as you can get - states that he was approached to be a candidate. Finally, the party's interim secretary is Alastair Thompson of the Left-leaning news site scoop.co.nz (from which he has taken a sabbatical).
Accordingly, it may be hard for the new party to avoid being 'framed' as being on the Left. If so, then the majority of its votes should come via leakages from the Labour, Greens or Mana voting pool. It would be hard to see such a party damaging National, especially if it falls short of parliamentary representation.
Indeed, should it fail to win parliamentary representation then the votes it does generate will become wasted 'Left' votes. If the election is close, that could even throw the result to National.
The final possibility is that the Internet Party could become a true protest party - absorbing the votes of the disenfranchised and generating new voters from among the increasing numbers of those who would otherwise not turn out.
This is the hope of at least some of Mr Dotcom's Left-wing boosters. In a gushing write-up by socialist commentator Chris Trotter, for instance, the Internet Party was heralded as a potential parallel to Italy's Five Star Movement, an 'anti- politics' party which rode a wave of voter disgust to a stunning electoral performance in that country's elections last year.
But New Zealand is not Italy. Going into its last election, the latter country had been forced into austerity by a sovereign debt crisis. Things were so bad that, at the time, Italy was actually being governed by an unelected proconsul of the European Union. By contrast, our leaders have generally steered a good path through the recession and the economic forecast is now fairly sunny.
One can understand why the Government's antagonists might be frustrated at the apparent immovability of the polls. If they are counting on some groundswell of disenchantment with New Zealand politics to wash John Key away, however, I think they do so at their peril.
- © Fairfax NZ News