Gordon Campbell on Mana and Dotcom

So far, Mana leader Hone Harawira deserves a lot of credit for the disciplined way he has conducted his discussions with the Internet Party. Harawira has (a) explored whether a basis for co-operation exists (b) sought a bottom line agreement in ruling out working with National post-election and (c) suspended further action until the Internet Party has put its house in order. So far, that looks faultless. True, some senior figures within Mana have voiced their opposition – on principle – to working with the Internet Party. That looks like an over-reaction. Alliances will always involve a degree of compromise, but there is no indication – as yet – that Harawira is abandoning any position that Mana holds dear, in his talks with the Internet Party.

Quite the contrary: Mana has re-inforced its bottom line positions. There is a wider issue involved though. The left is routinely, obsessively capable of focussing on the differences between prospective allies rather than the goals they share in common. In that respect, the right is far more disciplned: it rarely loses sight of its goals, and the nature of the common enemy. By contrast, the left is more inclined to demand ideological purity within its own ranks as a pre-requisite: ironically so, for a movement that makes so much noise about solidarity and tolerance. Frankly, if the same criteria being applied to the Mana/Internet Party talks were being applied just as rigorously elsewhere, there would be no possibility of the Greens and Labour working constructively together in this election campaign, either. Think of what the Greens could dredge up resentfully – if it chose to do so – about Labour’s past treatment of beneficiaries, climate change, Ahmed Zaoui ete etc etc. At such times, purity can be its own worst enemy. Getting rid of the common enemy has to be the over-riding issue.

That’s not to say there aren’t risks involved for Mana. Any party that builds an identity where its values are uppermost has to be extra careful about its bedfellows. Across the Tasman, the quick and total self-destruction of the Democrats – a party that put its values of honesty, tolerance, compassion and accountability to the forefront, until it fatally muddied them – is a clear warning that if you promise to deliver a different brand of politics, and claim to be different, then you have to walk the talk. It’s easy to see why the internal critics of Mana’s engagement with the Internet Party would prefer that Mana simply continued on its current path, and avoided any alliance that might sully its brand.

Well, Mana has already fought one election on those pristine terms, and it ended up with just one MP in Parliament. True, it will be hoping that its current efforts (and the meltdown of the Maori Party) will deliver it at least one more MP. Yet those levels of representation will be meaningful only if there is a centre left government elected – which arguably, a Mana/Internet arrangement might make more likely, if it helped to produce a bigger bloc of centre-left MPs.

In politics, purity has a limited shelf life. That’s the bind Mana is in. It can deliver meaningfully for its vulnerable constituents only via a larger parliamentary presence, and with a change of government. At which point, the business of engagement and compromise that has cost the Maori Party so dearly, will begin in earnest for Mana as well. And frankly, if Mana cannot successfully protect its core principles in a pre-election arrangement with the Internet Party, what on earth do Sue Bradford and Co think its chances would be of dealing successfully with Labour, in government? If Mana really wants to deliver for its constituents, it has to be confident that it can protect its turf, against anyone. And surely, no one thinks Harawira would be a pushover – for Kim Dotcom, or for David Cunliffe – do they?

In terms of realpolitik it comes down to what, if anything, could a deal with the Internet Party deliver for Mana, and the country. Well, the Internet Party could hope to reach 3-4% at this election – and only some of that would be at the expense of the current support for Greens and Labour, in that both the Internet Party and Mana will be hoping to motivate previous non-voters, and especially so among the young. That could definitely help Mana to break out of the niche of 1 or 2 MPs to which its usual modes of campaigning currently condemn it. That is the rationale for talking to Dotcom – and it’s not about money, it’s about outreach. Whether the old school left likes it or not, Kim Dotcom, his music industry friends and Mana (working together) could well be able to reach and to motivate the Maori and Polynesian urban underclass in ways that Mana’s – and Labour’s – traditional forms of messaging have not, and cannot.

That’s the vision, at least. It is now up to the Internet Party over the next few weeks to show to Harawira in concrete terms that it can walk the talk. In short order, it has to do the basics of getting its 500 members, creating a structure of leaders and candidates and getting some policy priorities sorted. If it can do that – and since January, it has made a hash of it – then it could still be a factor in this election. To repeat: its crucial appeal will be not so much among its geek constituency, but among the sceptical young non-voters of south Auckland. That’s an election battleground where Harawira and Dotcom can bring their credentials as genuine political outsiders usefully to bear.

Clearly, the centre right are worried about that prospect. The recent, pathetic attempt to smear Dotcom over his World War II memorabilia reflects that concern. Let’s get this straight. People such as Kim Dotcom and Sir Peter Jackson are like big, adolescent kids in many respects. They collect stuff from WWII. Jackson goes for WWII tanks and planes and wants to make a film about the Dam Busters. Dotcom collects stuff formerly owned and/or signed by Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill. Dotcom and Jackson alike seem to get a buzz from proximity to the trinkets and machinery of history, and of power. Other overgrown boys, with less money to spend, build model planes and go to events like Warbirds Over Wanaka for exactly the same reason. It may be immature, but it is not malignant. The fact that the national media has bought so wholeheartedly into the Dotcom: Hitler smear process is one of those things that periodically, makes New Zealand look like hicksville. Personally, I think I feel more worried by No Right Turn’s revelation that Colin Craig’s favourite game is Diplomacy.

For those who don’t know, Diplomacy is a classic strategy game based on pre-World War I Europe. Players assume the role of one of the era’s Great Powers and compete to control all of Europe. Like most games of its era, it’s zero-sum, where victory can only be gained by trampling over the corpses of your enemies. The catch is that there is no randomness – the game has very simple mechanics, which are completely deterministic. So you can’t rely on luck of the dice and gamble your way to victory. Instead, in order to win, you need to carefully build alliances, and then betray your former allies. It is therefore a game which rewards deceit and treachery – a training tool for sociopaths (it’s telling that it is also the favourite game of war-criminal Henry Kissinger)

Colin Craig and the Act Party’s Jamie Whyte, remember, are on track to be part of the next centre-right government – and via the same MMP levers that Mana and the Internet Party have been contemplating. Right now, even a Matt McCarten would probably struggle to wring coherence out of the Internet Party. Having had firsthand experience of that apparent chaos, Harawira may now be simply finessing his ‘goodbye and good luck’ messages. If so, a genuine opportunity has been missed. Once again, the Key government may prevail, mainly because of the shortcomings among its opponents.