Crucial decision for Labour
Like one of those big, old department stores, Labour tends to think of itself as a one-stop shop for the centre-left. It has never felt entirely comfortable with an MMP reality where centre-left voters are just as likely to support a boutique outfit like the Greens, or to shop online at Internet Mana.
Labour now faces a difficult decision. Should it try hard to win the Te Tai Tokerau seat from Hone Harawira?
Arguably, this could result in a pyrrhic victory that could cost the centre-left far more than it would ever achieve from sending Kelvin Davis, Labour’s able Te Tai Tokerau candidate, to Parliament.
That’s the problem. Should Labour be treating Internet Mana as a potential ally whose success is in Labour’s own best interest, or as a rival it should oppose?
Until recently, the choice was simple.
The Internet Party could easily be written off as a chaotic plaything of Kim Dotcom.
However, Laila Harre’s appointment as party leader changes the landscape.
Come election time, Mana and the Internet Party will share a joint party list.
Mana will supply the bulk of the social policy agenda, and Harre and Harawira should be able to project it very credibly together.
Her experience with parliamentary coalition politics, with trade unions, with Auckland local body politics – not to mention a feminism that previously led her to take responsibility for our paid parental leave legislation – will all be useful assets on the campaign trail.
Under Harre, the Internet Party seems likely to evolve from being just an internet-based oasis with a few liberal trimmings on the side into a fullblown social justice party with a defining focus on internet freedoms and delivery.
For all the talk about Dotcom’s money – and of course, it will be useful – other factors have been driving this arrangement.
To his credit, Harawira saw that Mana needed to transcend the virtuous niche to which it had consigned itself. (The centre-left is very good at railing, and failing, self-righteously.)
It needed a circuit breaker if it was ever going to replace the Maori Party and get its own priorities onto the Cabinet agenda.
The engagement with Dotcom will lend Harawira the resources and the national profile to transform Mana from being a mere regional player on the sidelines of parliamentary politics.
The Greens will be shaken up by the new situation.
For years, the Greens have been accustomed to seeing their vote rise when Labour’s fortunes go down, and vice versa.
Now, centre- left voters will have a genuine third option, which could put some talented candidates (eg, Greens MP Holly Walker) in danger of extinction.
Labour’s response, as mentioned, will be crucial.
If Labour wins in Te Tai Tokerau the Internet Mana project will fail, and as much as 4 per cent of the centre-left vote nationwide would then vanish into the dustbin, as wasted votes.
Meanwhile, everyone else will be playing MMP politics.
National will be doing so in Epsom, in Ohariu and with Colin Craig’s Conservatives.
Doubtless, it will also be encouraging the 1814 Te Tai Tokerau voters who ticked National on the party list in 2011 to vote tactically for Davis this year, to get rid of Harawira.
However, Labour seems flummoxed about whether to embrace Internet Mana, or try to sink it.