OPINION: Say what you like about the sacrifice of conscience for cash - a great big German spanner has just been flung into the machinery of this year's election campaign.
I wasn't going to write about Kim Dotcom's vanity party again this week. It has had far more publicity in its short life than it deserves.
Plus, it seems that everywhere you look Dotcom is there. Giving evidence in the John Banks trial. Breaking up with his wife, Mona (on Twitter, of course). Fighting Hollywood over access to his millions. Calling on Prime Minister John Key to resign (again).
Shortly, it will be Dotcom in the dock as he fights extradition to the United States on fraud and racketeering charges. Forget Banks and buckets of mud - that hearing is going to be the trial of the year. So a bit of Dot-gone seemed like no bad thing.
And then suddenly, there he was in a civil union with the beneficent ghost from socialist Christmases past: Laila Harre.
The media was expecting Dotcom's Internet Party would announce a flake as its new leader. Or a complete moron. Either would have done just fine. We could have ridiculed them, and moved on to more important matters.
But Harre isn't a flake. And she's certainly no moron. She's one of the most driven, persuasive and intelligent politicians I've met. I don't know how Dotcom managed to put a ring on the darling of the Left but on the face of it, it's a major coup.
The question, though, is for who?
Harre is an old-school socialist. She's from a trades union background. She's a former member of the Labour Party, of New Labour, and of the Alliance Party. She's most recently worked for the Green Party.
She's mates with most of New Zealand's remaining old hard Lefties, including Matt McCarten (now Labour leader David Cunliffe's chief of staff), rent-a-protester John Minto (also in the Internet Party tent), ex Green MP and now ex Mana candidate Sue Bradford, broadcaster and former Alliance MP Willie Jackson (who's flying a kite about standing for the Internet Party himself) and radical Maori separatist Annette Sykes (president of Mana and number two on its list).
Harre was one of Jim Anderton's stars when the Alliance Party won 10 per cent of the vote and entered government with Labour in 1999. She quickly rose to Cabinet rank, and was a capable minister.
But when the Alliance imploded three years later, Anderton and Harre fell out. He went on to form the Progressive Party, returning to Parliament on the back of his safe Wigram seat. Harre took over as leader of the Alliance, and lost, badly, in the 2002 election.
On the face of it, then, Harre is likely to appeal to older Lefties who admire her feminist principles and strong trade union credentials.
It's hard to see her appeal to young, internet-savvy geeks though. Last time Harre was in Parliament the internet was barely out of short pants. And the people she's trying to persuade to vote for her weren't born and certainly wouldn't know her from a 33K dial-up modem.
But does it matter? Probably not. As long as Harre gets votes, neither the Internet Party nor Mana will care where they come from. And she's got $3 million of Dotcom's money to spend - that's more than any other party contesting the election, including Colin Craig's Conservatives.
On the face of it, the Left has engineered a spectacular reverse takeover of Dotcom's party. It's like a reunion of every failed candidate from every disappeared political party of the past 20 years, funded by an avowed capitalist whose fundamental philosophy - the freedom of movement of capital and people - runs counter to everything his candidates stand for.
But remember, Dotcom doesn't really care. His political aims are pragmatic, not philosophical.
In my opinion, there are two reasons why Dotcom is manipulating the political process. First, he wants rid of Prime Minister John Key. Second, he doesn't want to spend the rest of his life in a United States penitentiary. If the Internet-Mana party is elected with more than a couple of MPs, then Dotcom is likely to achieve the first objective.
There is no possibility the party could side with National. So a vote for Internet-Mana is a vote for a Labour-Green-Internet-Mana-and-possibly-New Zealand First-Government.
On the second objective, it's possible Dotcom could delay any extradition ruling against him long enough for a change of government to take place. The new multi-tentacled administration could overturn a court ruling. It would be foolish and contrary to the rule of law, but it could.
The Internet-Mana party may also either confuse or scare the bejesus out voters and strengthen National's hand. Blue-collar, socially conservative, Labour-leaning voters - who'd only just got their heads around the idea of dealing with the Greens - may not countenance their vote ushering in a potential coalition led by far-Left feminist and Maori radicals.
In her acceptance speech of the Internet Party leadership last week, Harre admitted her party was gaming the MMP system in a bid to get into Parliament. But she said it was "time for New Zealanders to take back MMP".
It was a nice line, with a ring of socialist rhetoric to it. But nothing could be farther from the truth. The Internet-Mana party may be successful or it may fall flat on its face.
But it is Dotcom who is attempting to take over MMP. And it is for no-one but himself.
- Sunday Star Times