Hot Topic Reporting season
Hot Topic Reporting season
3 mins to read

Election 2014: Harre, Dotcom and hypocrisy

Rob Hosking
Fri, 30 May 2014

The bizarre alliance coronation of former Alliance leader Laila Harre as leader of the Internet Party has raised more than a few eyebrows in the political world.

The alliance between German multimillionaire and convicted fraudster Kim Dotcom and a group of old school left wing trade unionists such as Ms Harre does not, to the outsider, look particularly natural or stable.

Let's dispose of the “hypocrisy” accusation right now. Yes, of course it is more than somewhat hypocritical for a committed champion of old fashioned socialism to team up with Mr Dotcom, whose money was made through some rather dubious means and who has convictions for fraud.

Left wing sympathisers argue they don’t make the rules of New Zealand’s MMP electoral system – which is only really half right. In fact, the architects and advocates for MMP were not exactly unaligned politically: its most vocal political champion was the late Rod Donald, who went on to lead the Green Party.

But they have a point that National had the chance to amend the rules at the last election with the referendum - and it ducked the chance. National annoyed a great many of its own activists by its “what, us worry?” approach to electoral reform.

For now, though, these are the rules all the players have to abide by. Lifting is now legal in rugby lineouts – to the detriment, one might think of the game – but it would be a foolish team which took the field and refused to match its opponents because of some point of principle.

In any case, voters sort of expect politicians to be hypocritical: accusations of the same do not have much political impact.

More important is the destabilising impact Ms Harre is going to have on the socialist side of politics – and with some knock on effects on the liberal conservative side as well.

A re-alignment on New Zealand’s political Left has been long overdue. Arguably, it has been happening, albeit slowly and below the surface of Parliamentary politics, for some time.

Helen Clark left the Labour Party stranded up a political blind alley: alienated from previously core support bases in Maoridom and in provincial blue collar areas and bereft of Parliamentary talent.

The group of “left of Labour” activists who walked out in the 1980s with Jim Anderton were by 2008 spread across the various left wing groupings – many had returned to Labour, and formed the bloc which made David Cunliffe leader last year.

Others – like Ms Harre – went to the Greens (however briefly, in her case).

Ms Harre’s organisational talents are not in doubt and her contacts across the left wing spectrum are legion. She will pull votes and activists from both Labour and the Greens.

It might, as some argue, get out more voters who will then vote for one of the left wing parties. But that assumes the disengaged 18-25 year olds who did not vote last time are inert socialist-leaning voters who had nothing to vote for.

That seems – at best – a stretch. One thing we can guarantee – it will trigger more infighting among the various left wing parties.

It is already happening. Suggestions Labour step aside in Te Tai Tokerau to give Mana/Internet Party's Hone Harawira a clear run were derisively shot down by Labour's candidate, Kelvin Davis, this morning. 

"It's a scam to get their votes," is how Mr Davis described the Internet Party/Mana alliance. 

Meanwhile the role of Labour leader David Cunliffe's chief of staff Matt McCarten in all this is far from clear. Mr McCarten worked closely with Ms Harre when the two were in the Alliance (and before that, in the bitter infighting which swept over Labour's Auckland Central organisation in the late 1980s).

Mr McCarten has in fact spent most of his political career fighting the party whose leader he is now chief of staff for. 

There are some very mixed loyalties and alliances within the myriad groupings on the Left. They will provide more division between now and September 20 - and, one suspects, even more so afterwards. 

Rob Hosking
Fri, 30 May 2014
© All content copyright NBR. Do not reproduce in any form without permission, even if you have a paid subscription.
Election 2014: Harre, Dotcom and hypocrisy