Hard News by Russell Brown


The Digital Natives

Perhaps the most amusing part of the online buzz over the Internet-Mana alliance confirmed yesterday has been the enthusiastic concern-trolling from people who've never previously had a problem with weird millionaires bankrolling political campaigns. I just never knew Cathy Odgers felt that way about Sue Bradford.

Disingenuous or not, most of the outrage has centred on the apparent clash of values between the old-left Mana and a party whose wealthy, controversial "visionary" (actual title in the party constitution) once gave $50,000 to John Banks. (Or should that he be $25,000 twice? It's hard to know with these things.)

And on one level, it is absurd. The Internet Party itself is a bit absurd. On the other, if you read the Internet Party's mission principles -- from whose clarity and style other parties could take a lesson -- it's not hard to find congruences with Mana. The GCSB, TPPA, environment, rural internet, independent foreign policy, education. It's not that crazy.

It's also not entirely unprecedented. Quite apart from Act's status as the long-term pet of Alan Gibbs, it's easy to forget that in the 1990s The Alliance embraced the New Zealand Liberal Party, which was formed by a couple of no-hoper National MPs and eventually delivered an MP (Frank Grover) who subsequently decamped to become the Christian Heritage Party's only ever member of Parliament. That was weird.

And if you look at Annette Sykes' Facebook page, you'll see something that's evident to anyone with a view of the Maori social media conversation: a fairly substantial group that feels it's not about to be dictated to by Pakeha liberals.

One thing that's clear is that it's not a matter of the Mana leadership taking the party away from its membership. As Bradford has graciously acknowledged, she's in a minority on the issue. 

There's still plenty that could go wrong. One would hope Dotcom has made full disclosure of any bomb the Whaleoil camp might be planning to drop nearer to the election. And if Sykes were to win Waiariki (it's not likely) and the alliance didn't win enough votes for a third MP, things would be a bit awkward.

What this is really about, however, is the near-million non-voters, a substantial number of whom are young, poor, Maori or all of the above. Young Maori seem to be the people who have joined Mana since teaming up with the Internet Party became a thing. More broadly, for everyone with a visceral hatred of Dotcom, there's someone who signed up with Orcon last year because they liked Kim Dotcom in that ad campaign.

The two parties are, of course, not the only ones interested in the youth vote. Turnout of habitual non-voters may be the only thing than can really change change the narrative of this election, so naturally Labour and the Greens are interested too. There's also the independent and notably-together #RockEnrol campaign, which launches on June 16 and will run a series of gigs and parties focused on youth voter participation through July and August. If it all does end up in more young people voting, then that's to the good.

If National and its prospective partners in government know already how they feel about Internet-Mana, the parties of the left are probably still working that out. Kelvin Davis has every right to scorn the use of Te Tai Tokerau as a device to coat-tail the Internet Party into Parliament, and to try and take the electorate off Harawira. Labour itself might end up thinking a couple of other anti-National MPs could be handy in the final count.

The next big thing is the announcement tomorrow at 1.30pm of the Internet Party's  leader, putting a blessed end to its status as a party with no candidates, filling the number slot on the Internet-Mana list and finally supplanting the diligent but wholly uncharismatic party secretary Vikram Kumar as the party's spokesman.

Harawira said this morning people would be "shocked" when the name was announced. Journalists were keen enough yesterday that they seemed to be calling everyone in their contact books, including me, just to ask. The inevitable blaze on the 6pm news tomorrow will not be at all unwelcome for the new venture.

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