New Zealand: Establishment gangs up on Internet Mana

September 27, 2014
A Mana flag at Auckland's September 21 climate action march, held the day after the elections. Photo by Stuart Munckton.

Staring down scandals related to revelations in a recently published book, Dirty Politics, and revelations of mass government surveillance, incumbent Prime Minister John Key led his right-wing National Party to become the first party with an outright majority in parliament since the current electoral system was set up in 1996.

The Labour opposition, however, slumped to about 24% of the vote ― its worst result ever.

On the left, the alliance between the Mana Movement, headed by militant Maori MP Hone Harawira, and the newly formed Internet Party, set up by online businessperson Kim Dotcom, failed to win a seat.

About a month before the elections, polls indicated Internet Mana could win up to five seats on the back of a campaign to create jobs, eradicate child poverty and build thousands of public houses, but constant attacks and an alliance of major parties against them took its toll.

John Minto, a veteran activist who was a Mana candidate many on the left hoped would enter parliament, looks at how the political and corporate establishment worked to undermine Internet Mana and, in particular, deny Harawira his seat. It is reprinted from The Daily Blog. You can also read an interview Green Left did with Minto on the eve of the elections.

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It was always going to be a hard task for Mana party leader Hone Harawira to hold onto his Te Tai Tokerau seat when the political establishment united in a coalition to defeat him and the chance for Internet Mana to bring more MPs into parliament.

From the outset, Labour Party candidate Kelvin Davis announced he was going hard-out to win the seat. This was despite any sane strategist realising at that stage that Labour would almost certainly need Internet Mana votes in a coalition of the left to change the government.

Killing off Mana’s parliamentary representation would be a self-defeating strategy. However, Davis was quickly backed up by several more of the party’s right-wing MPs such as Phil Goff and Chris Hipkins ― and then by Labour leader David Cunliffe.

Davis and Labour's right wing saw changing the government as a second priority to driving Mana out of parliament. Davis preferred to be a MP on the losing team rather than a supporter of the winning team.

National Party PM John Key joined Labour’s campaign by calling on National Party supporters to vote for Davis. The only other time I can recall a National Party leader urging their supporters to vote Labour was in 2011 when Key similarly called for Hone’s defeat.

Maori Party leaders also argued for the same strategy behind the scenes. Finally, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters joined in with a last-minute appeal to New Zealand First voters to back Davis.

Alongside the coalition ran a media onslaught attacking the Internet Party's Kim Dotcom and by direct association Internet Mana. TV3, for example, flew a crew to the Philippines to interview three former employees of Kim Dotcom over workplace grievances.

Fair enough. But the same channel couldn’t find the journalistic justification to send a crew down the road to find the prime minister’s employee, Jason Ede, who worked with Cameron Slater to hack Labour Party computers and write vicious attack blogs against anyone who fell foul of the National government.

I could write a small book about media coverage of the campaign but don’t have the time or the patience. Suffice to say that no politician should object to being held accountable by the media. Neither should they object to journalists getting stuck in to get to the truth behind the dissembling political spin of candidates, parties and their cronies.

Neither is it a problem when journalists give their opinions on the issues of the day. However, when those opinions drive the narrative that is presented to the public as news then we have a serious problem.

And so it was that Maoridom’s greatest contemporary champion was knocked out of parliament.

Just how important this was for the ruling elite was clear when the largest cheer at the news Davis was ahead of Harawira came from those attending the National Party’s post-election campaign celebration.

And so why was Internet Mana such a threat to the political establishment and their corporate backers? Because our policies, such as free tertiary education, feeding the kids, building more state houses, shift the tax burden to the rich who don’t pay taxes, are a serious threat to the “free market” policies of the past 30 years that have enriched the few at the expense of the many.

The National and Labour parties were happy to accommodate Mana ― provided we stayed in our own small space on the field while the big boys played the game. But when the Mana party made a strategic alliance with the Internet Party all that changed.

The political establishment and the corporate media wanted us to remain pure and powerless but were enraged when we dared threaten to disrupt the cosy arrangement where Labour and National take turns to run the free market on behalf of the corporate sector.

In this month’s New Zealand Herald “Mood of the Boardroom” survey of the opinions of the chief executives of our largest companies, one referred to Internet Mana as “dangerous radicals”. I’m happy to take that as a compliment.

Every political party gets corporate donations, but unlike other parties that mould their policies to ensure the corporate donations keep flowing, Internet Mana had no such constraints. Mana entered this strategic alliance with the Internet Party on the basis there would be no compromise ― not even a single comma ― on any of our policies.

The whole country knows who our corporate donor was and knows the policies Mana approved before Dotcom was in sight have not changed. We can’t say the same for the National or Labour parties on either point in relation to their corporate donations.

All of us in Mana knew the association with Dotcom was a big risk. But it was a risk we were prepared to take to break out of the 1% polling we were stuck in and get more Mana MPs into parliament.

We went in with our eyes open. We were prepared to risk everything and lose everything, because the struggle of families on low-incomes demands active campaigning outside parliament and a louder voice in parliament.

Our parliamentary strategy failed spectacularly on September 20 but I have no regrets that we tried.

Mana as a movement works with people in many and various local campaigns as well as gaining representation in parliament. For the meantime, the parliamentary side has stalled but the campaigning goes on.

And so the day after the election Mana banners were on the Queen Street march calling for action on climate change. The corporates will hate us for it. There were no National or Labour party banners.

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