Internet-Mana creates a crowded Left

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 31/05/2014
Internet Mana Party
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax NZ

MIND THE GAP: The ideological distance between Laila Harre and Mana leader Hone Harawira is paper thin compared with the far greater ideological divide that is assumed to exist between Harre and her new boss, Kim Dotcom.

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Laila Harre, Pam Corkery, Matt McCarten - scratch beneath the surface of a Left-wing party these days and you are increasingly likely to find a former NewLabour or Alliance party activist.

Even Labour Party conferences these days look like a reunion of the old Alliance and New Labour parties - partly the reason why former leader David Shearer struggled to get any traction with the activist base.

With Harre and Corkery at the helm of the Kim Dotcom-bankrolled Internet Party, the fledgling organisation is looking less like the face of the future than a blast from the past.

Harre's first outing as leader on Thursday underscored that perception with her reference to unfinished business from her days as a minister in the Labour-Alliance government.

She must be hoping her political comeback is more successful than those of Sir Roger Douglas, John Banks or Don Brash.

Harre's appointment has, however, one big advantage; it makes Mana and the Internet Party look less like political oddfellows than a marriage made in heaven.

The ideological distance between Harre and Mana leader Hone Harawira is paper thin compared with the far greater ideological divide that is assumed to exist between Harre and her new boss, Dotcom.

It explains Harawira's decided lack of discomfort at his announcement earlier in the week that Internet and Mana had signed on the dotted line on an accommodation.

With Harre on board he gets someone who will broaden his appeal to the Left, coupled with a rich man's backing. It's a win-win.

The deal has the added advantage to the Left of sticking it to National over its cynicism at the last MMP review. National rejected an Electoral Commission review recommending it do away with the most disliked aspect of MMP, the coat-tail rule. No prizes for guessing why - it has kept allies ACT and UnitedFuture afloat for years by gifting them Epsom and Ohariu.

And even if, privately, many Nats think Colin Craig is flakey, the party has not ruled out gifting him a seat as well if it decides it needs him later in the campaign.

Having preserved its right to exploit the coat-tail rule, however, National can hardly complain if its opponents throw that back in its face.

The Internet Party is banking on its deal allowing it to slip into Parliament on Harawira's coat-tails in Te Tai Tokerau, the seat he has held since 2005.

Given that the deal with Mana has a sunset clause that kicks in six weeks after the election, it looks like a particularly cynical new take on MMP. But as veteran radical John Minto points out, elections are about strategic warfare. Minto may also have been talking about the not-so-subterranean war for votes on an increasingly crowded Left.

At one level, Labour's motto would be the more the merrier. A proliferation of Centre-Left allies gives it options to stitch up a government after the next election, with both the Greens and Internet-Mana to its Left, and NZ First as an option on the Centre-Right.

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MEANWHILE, Labour will be doing the maths on an electoral accommodation with Mana in the Waiariki seat held by the Maori Party's Te Ururoa Flavell. Given its potential to change the outcome of the election by robbing National of a potential ally, the arguments in favour of doing so will be compelling to the pragmatists within Labour.

But the noisier it gets on the Left, the more it risks becoming a commentary on Labour's currently weakened state.

David Cunliffe's strategy on taking the leadership was always assumed as starting with a tack to the Left to shore up the core constituency, followed by a tack back to the Centre to leave room for allies like the Greens.

But with the polls showing no sign of National losing its dominance in the political centre-ground, Labour remains stuck on the Left, competing for many of the same votes as its closest allies, the Greens. Harre's appointment creates even more churn.

Privately, it would be a surprise if there wasn't some ill-feeling within the Greens at Harre's move. She was working as an organiser and strategist for that party till recently and takes up her new job with significant intel on how the Greens plan to campaign this election.

But publicly they have made only polite noises about Harre's appointment.

In a normal world, the Greens would not be overly concerned about the new kid on the block - Internet-Mana, or IMP as some are mischievously calling it.

But Dotcom's promised $3 million backing of the Harre-led party throws a much better-funded rival at the Greens in competition for many of the same votes.

As the third-biggest party in Parliament, the Greens have a powerful brand that aligns them with a worldwide movement.

They have successfully transformed themselves from the party that used to be viewed affectionately as a bunch of Morris dancing eccentrics.

And they have something else that Labour has lacked in recent years - stability. Co-leaders Russel Norman and Metiria Turei have had five years at the helm. Compare that with Labour, which is on to its fourth leader.

Organisationally, the Greens have finally been able to match the more inspired genuis behind some of their earlier campaigns with a slicker and more professional presence on the ground.

Norman's poise on economic issues makes it difficult for Labour to rule the Greens out of economic portfolios in the next government if the Left wins on September 20.

That will be even more difficult if the Greens maintain their current levels of support - at 12.7 per cent in the last Stuff.co.nz/Ipsos Political poll, they are not far off the high point set by NZ First as a third party in 1996, when its leader, Winston Peters, negotiated ministerial portfolios, a role as deputy prime minister and Treasurer and a $5 billion coalition agreement.

The difference between the Greens and the NZ First is that Peters was always prepared to jump in the direction of the sweetest deal. The Greens have deliberately given themselves nowhere to go but Labour.

History shows that the strategy has always worked out far better for Labour than it has the Greens.

The strategy in recent years therefore has been to make sure the Greens are too big for Labour to ignore should it come time to do a deal on election night.

More competition on the Left won't help that cause.

- The Dominion Post

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