Naked pragmatism behind Mana's alliance with Dotcom

Sue Bradford may not be everyone's favourite cup of tea.

But the veteran activist and former Green MP deserves some credit for her point-blank refusal to be enticed into joining those entranced by the cult of personality otherwise known as Kim Dotcom.

As someone who has spent her adult life going in to bat and battle for the powerless, Ms Bradford is the last person who would doff their cloth cap at someone whom she dubs as a ''neo-liberal capitalist millionaire''.

She does not mean that as an insult. She sees it simply a statement of fact.

Working in league with Mr Dotcom would be pure anathema for her because he is someone totally incompatible with the ethos which drives the Mana movement.

For Hone Harawira, Mana's leader, Mr Dotcom is a very welcome means to an end, however.

So Ms Bradford walked away from the party earlier this week, despite being a founding member of the three-year-old political movement.

Those who remained barely seemed to notice. Their eyes were filled with dollar signs instead.

One familiar face was soon replaced by another. Slipping with ease into her new role as the leader of Mr Dotcom's fledgling Internet Party, Laila Harre greeted her benefactor's announcement he was bank-rolling his political vehicle to the tune of $3 million as a welcome change.

For once, such a cheque was being written for a party on the left rather than one from the right.

The big question is whether there are hidden strings attached - as the prime minister is already reminding everyone. It is the case that having the Left in power offers the best chance of Mr Dotcom staying put.

The night life in Coatesville may not extend much beyond possums occasionally running into each other on the power cables - a tad quiet. But it sure beats life in a boiler suit on a chain gang in deepest, darkest Tennessee.

Mr Dotcom was upfront about his $3 million donation. But that may have been a bit of mischief designed to send a shiver down the spines of other parties struggling to raise money for an election now less than four months away.

The collective gulp from across the political spectrum suggested he had succeeded.

It seems to trouble no-one as to where Mr Dotcom's money came from. But then Mr Dotcom is accorded folk-hero status as some latter-day Robin Hood extracting his due from the barons of Hollywood.

At times, such collective innocence on the public's part is reflected in a similar naivety on the part of politicians. It seems there is no shortage of the latter willing to fall under the spell of this particular Wizard of Oz.

The horse has long bolted, but those taking the Yellow Brick Road to this doubtful magician's Emerald City should first partake in a little light reading in the shape of the 72-page grand jury indictment of charges prepared by the United States Justice Department and laid against Mr Dotcom and his Megaupload buddies and filed in a court in east Virginia.

For all that, when your party is registering at barely 1% in the polls, you take what you can get. And the likes of Mr Dotcom don't often come knocking.

Preferring naked pragmatism to Ms Bradford's principle, Mr Harawira has pulled off something of a coup.

Last Tuesday witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Mana and the Internet Party setting up an overarching new party - Internet Mana - which will fight for the party vote with a single list of candidates drawn from both component parties.

Combining the two parties' share of the party vote would up the chances of securing more MPs in the next Parliament.

That would be aided by Mr Harawira holding his Te Tai Tokerau, thus allowing MPs to ''coat-tail'' into the House without the overarching party having to reach the 5% threshold.

With his seat thus crucial to the Internet Party getting into Parliament, Mr Harawira was able to drive a hard bargain. He secured the leadership of the new party, three of the first four slots for Mana on the party list, chair of the internal committee running the election campaign, and access to funding.

Ms Bradford warns Mana will end up making an unintended shift away from its niche on the left as it is forced to compromise to work with the Internet Party.

That, however, will be tempered by the left-leaning Ms Harre's presence. She initially seemed an odd choice for the role. Ms Harre is only 48, but she has been around the political traps on and off for a long time. While she will target the young who are eligible to vote but who do not, it had been expected the Internet Party would opt for a fresh face with a highly computer-literate mind.

Few votes under the age of 30 will have much memory of the last time Ms Harre hit the headlines - the break-up of the Alliance back in 2002. But that generation will find out what she thinks soon enough.

Ms Harre's appointment will blur the lines between the two component parties. Her beliefs as such would slot easily into Mana's vision.

The upshot is that Mr Harawira has effectively negotiated the formation of a ''Super Mana Party'' - and one funded by Mr Dotcom for the four months until the election to the tune of $3 million.

Neither Mr Harawira nor Ms Harre are shrinking violets. Ms Harre can also be an abrasive personality. The big test will be for them to work collaboratively.

The $3 million war chest will help considerably. When was the last time a party of the left had that kind of money to throw around in an election?

The net effect is that the Internet Party suddenly has to be taken seriously.

It can no longer be dismissed as a rich man's indulgence doubling as a possible lifeline for Mr Dotcom to escape deportation to the US.

The party's competitors all claim they will not lose votes to Internet Mana - and then posit theories as to why their rivals will do so.

They cannot all be right. It is too soon to say whether the game has changed - and how. But, with Mr Harawira's help, Mr Dotcom has some politicians stranded like those possums in the Coatsville headlights.

John Armstrong is The New Zealand Herald political correspondent.


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