Hard News by Russell Brown


The Internet Party, whatever happens

You don't need to be a fancy political strategist to be able to tell that the Internet Party is having a difficult birth. A launch party that wasn't a launch party and then suddenly wasn't a party at all. A party secretary who was unexpectedly outed then just as suddenly resigned. And, while things haven't been happening, a general slide in the public's affection for party founder Kim Dotcom, according to today's Herald poll.

But, as explained in Jonathan Milne's very useful feature in yesterday's Herald on Sunday, the baby is to be born this week. It has no named candidates, but it has an office -- in Lower Hutt, for some reason -- and it has a serious slate of staff.

That staff includes Graeme Edgeler, a blogger on this site, who will be the Internet Party's onboard lawyer. I knew Graeme had done some work for the party but not that he planned to go on staff (and I wouldn't expect to), but I can see why he has done it.

Dotcom is -- let's not say "catnip for lawyers" -- a unique and interesting client. I don't think most of the people who scorn him realise quite how closely the old Megaupload tracked to what Google was doing with YouTube. Both had serious legal teams and takedown policies but didn't proactively remove infringing material. Dotcom even proposed to the movie studios a system somewhat like YouTube's Content ID, although it's unclear how real a prospect this ever was.

But when the US used the full apparatus of state to bring a frankly adventurous criminal prosecution aginst Dotcom, there can't have been a copyright lawyer who wasn't watching with interest. When the legal team gathered after the raid on his mansion was able to highlight seriously flawed actions by police, sundry breaches of rights, and actions by our own intelligence services that we'd previously only been able to speculate about, it all just got even more legally interesting.

But Dotcom's problem is his tendency to play close to -- and more often a little over -- whatever line there is. He couldn't even manage a launch for his vanity album without spooking the Electoral Commission. Given what will inevitably be an unconventional campaign, I would think Graeme, as an electoral law specialist, will be kept busy. But, as he told Milne with classic Edgelarian understatement, such jobs don't often come up, and "I'm pleased the party isn't something I'm completely opposed to."

Anyway, the matter of staff seems positively straightforward in comparison to the issue of candidates. Milne broke the news that Mana Party leader Hone Harawira has been meeting with Dotcom and wrote that:

This week, the Mana Party leadership and executive are expected to discuss a proposal to unite the two parties under one umbrella for the election.

Which does not appear to mean there is an actual merger on the cards, but perhaps an Alliance-style structure encompassing two parties with a shared disdain for John Key. Lord knows. Dotcom says the party is post-ideological. Mana stalwart Sue Bradford clearly thinks it's simply ideologically incoherent.

Then there's the matter of the currently sitting MP who is apparently lined up to stand for the Internet Party. I have no idea who it is, but the fact that people (me included) were prepared to credit a spoof rumour yesterday that the MP was New Zealand First's erratic Asenati Lole-Taylor illustrates the general expectation that any crazy thing could happen.

And finally, there's Dotcom's critical dispute with his former security chief Wayne Tempero, who was slapped with a gag order last week, preventing him from revealing anything about Dotcom's business or personal life or the pay and conditions of staff -- the last being the issue that apparently caused Tempero to quit Dotcom's employment. The day of the order, Cameron Slater posted what looked like damning information on those very topics. Slater insists that his post does not breach the order -- and says there's more to come.

But there's too much money and expertise behind this venture and, still, Dotcom star power to simply write off the Internet Party. If he can convince people he's serious, there's actually a constituency that will like the philosophical direction of the party's policies. More of this will become clear after Thursday's launch, but it seems fair to assume that at least some of what happens is going to be a bit mad.

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