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Aotearoa/New Zealand: Corporate parties, media gang-up to defeat Internet MANA

Hone Harawira (centre) with John Minto (right).

For more on the MANA party, click HERE. For more on Aotearoa/New Zealand, click HERE.

By John Minto

September 22, 2014 -- Daily Blog -- It was always going to be a hard task for MANA party leader  Hone Harawira to hold onto his Te Tai Tokerau seat in the September 20 general election 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 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 the right wing of Labour 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.

The prime minister, National Party's  John Key, joined Labour’s campaign 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).

The Maori Party leadership was arguing the same strategy behind the scenes and finally 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 [the Internet Party and MANA Party had joined forces to stand in the election]. 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 walk 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 and 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 Kelvin Davis was ahead of Hone 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, shifted 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 which have enriched the few at the expense of the many.

The National and Labour parties were happy to accommodate Internet 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 Kim Dotcom was a big risk but it was a risk we were prepared to take to break out of the 1 per cent 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.

John Minto: 'We campaign hard' for working people

John Minto interviewed by Stuart Munckton, Auckland

September 19, 2014 -- Green Left Weekly -- John Minto is a veteran activist who became known as a leader of a powerful anti-apartheid campaign in the 1970s. More recently, he was part of organising some of the largest pro-Palestine demonstrations ever in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

A member of the Mana Movement, headed by militant Maori MP Hone Harawira, Minto is a candidate for the Internet Mana alliance for the September 20 polls. The alliance was formed between Mana, with a strong base in the Maori working class, and the newly formed Internet Party founded by millionaire businessperson Kim Dotcom, wanted by US authorities over alleged copyright violations.

* * *

What would you view the main issues in this election campaign are?

The main issues for Mana are the basic ones for families. It is income, housing, taxation and free education.

And then you have the wider issues, big ones like the TPPA [TransPacific Partnership Agreement pro-corporate free trade agreement involved 12 Pacific rim nations that is being negotiated in secret] and the Five Eyes alliance [involving intelligence agencies from the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which has been exposed as carrying out wholesale surveillance on their citizens].

How important do you think these foreign policy issues are — such as the TPPA, the Five Eyes alliance and also now, yet another Iraq war pushed by the West?

It is really important in its own right. It is interesting, I was talking to a parent at last night’s meet the candidates meeting, and she said her teenage son and friends were very interested in Internet Mana. They went to the Moment of Truth meeting [convened by the Internet Party founder Dotcom, at which Edward Snowden revealed New Zealand role in mass spying] and were fascinated and really intensely interested in the whole spying thing. They see it as directly affecting them, to have governments spying on what they do online. So it is an important point of engagement for young people.

You have also just recently been part of organising large Palestine demonstrations. How does Mana view these type of issues?

Well for Mana they are key issues. The core of Mana is activists. We are activists and we have campaign the past three years as Mana on all these issues. You can look at any of these issues, like the surveillance laws, like Palestine, like stopping the asset sales, a whole myriad of other things, there are Mana flags and supporters there, and Mana networks help get people out.

So these issues fits comfortably in Mana, and Mana fits comfortably in them.

Can you describe the alliance with the Internet Party and how it came about?

Well, it was a situation where all of us involved were well out of our comfort zones. When there was the option of Dotcom coming in, the thing that people like myself said was “OK, big donations from people, they always come with strings attached, so what are the strings attached in terms of policy?”

We had just adopted a whole lot of new policy in our AGM and I said, “If we shift a frickin’ comma in that policy, I’m not interested”. That was the general feeling around.

The discussion went on and it became clear that not only would the two parties keep their policies separate, but there would be no major conflict between the two groups' policies. It is actually more a matter of detail. We have developed more detail in our policies, although they have developed some more as time has gone on.

And the thing about Kim Dotcom, well it is a big query. He was the victim of illegal spying, so he has changed a bit. He is an uber-capitalist, and he is still that today, but his views on political issues have changed quite dramatically. He has come to see there is more to life than making lots of money and spending it in frivolous ways.

At meetings, he is one who speaks most vehemently about the need for the rich to pay more tax. He says he needs to pay far more tax and we should have wealth tax, inheritance tax, capital gains tax — all things that are core to Mana.

So, in one sense, he is right there with a plan to rebuild community structures and the welfare state. He himself grew up in a very poor family. So he has been there and obviously, he got out of that, but now he is looking back.

But we were all out of our comfort zones because we were worried about the public perception. But we have been able to hold on to our integrity in the process.

What do you think of the media response to Dotcom and the alliance?

The response from some of the media has been outright hostile all the way through. That is not a bad thing, you need to sharpen things up. They have accused us — of people like me — of being sell-outs.

I’m happy to take that on the chin. The fact is, everybody knows exactly who gives Mana donations. We don’t know what donations Labour, Nationals or Greens get. We know where the money comes from and we know it doesn’t come with strings attached, in terms of policy.

And we are not pulling our punches on anything. I think as that has become clearer, people have become more respectful of it.

Given that Mana’s main base is among lower-class Maori people, do you think this alliance is a chance to broaden that base?

Yes, that has been something we have been working on for three years. I joined Mana in 2011, just before the elections. It developed as a split from the Maori Party, so it was seen as a Maori party supported by a few pakeha [white New Zealanders] like me.

So out in the general [non-Maori] electorates, we got hammered. We got almost nothing in terms of votes. So we addressed that in the local elections last year when I stood for Auckland mayor. We had a whole slate of candidates — Maori and pakeha and Pacific peoples.

And we campaigned in the lower-class areas and were very successful. We had candidates polling 3000-4000 votes, against Labor that was polling 10,000-14,000. So we were taking big chunks of votes from Labor.

That was local, it doesn’t automatically translate into a general election. But I think we showed we were a party for everyone. The alliance with the internet party has reinforced this and that is a positive thing.

A lot of the issues you mentioned at the start — housing, education, incomes — you also hear Labour and Greens talk about. What separates Mana out?

Well you go to any meeting and Labour will always say “we want housing, it has to be quality and affordable, where every kid gets a decent start because that is the Kiwi dream, and that is what labour stands for, what Labour wants”.

It all sounds good, you know. But there is nothing in any of their policies to back it up. They are just tinkering with what the Nationals are doing. They are National-light. They are nothing to do with transforming this country. Tax the rich? Good god, they are shifting the top tax rate by a couple of cents in the dollar. I mean, piss off.

Labour is a party of neoliberialism. It is a party of the right. It has been for 30 years.

What will the gains be if there are more Mana MPs?

The gains are going to be, when we are electing MPs to parliament, one Mana MP will be worth a dozen Labour MPs when it comes to representing low-income people. We are all seasoned campaigners. We got our feet dirty. We come from the “loudhailer and placards” brigade, if you like. We have come from a lot of street action.

People respect us, even if they hate us, they respect us because we campaign hard. So you put people like us in parliament, we are going to campaign. We will work with MPs inside parliament, but more importantly, with community groups outside it.

The parliament will do nothing without a groundswell outside it. Our job is to build that groundswell and to fight hard to get communities demanding change.

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Comments

Reflections on the elections from one Fightback member

This article was written by Ben Peterson, a memember of the socialst group Fightback and an organiser for Unite union in Christchurch. having gotten back from a week in Auckland meeting and working with people in Mana there, it seems to me to be broadly right and makes some ofthe key points, espiecally if read in conjunctin with John Minto's piece that details the establishment's hit job on Internet Mana (and if you read Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics about the conspiracies by the National governmetn and sections ofthe media to do in opponents through dirty and soimetiems illegal means, they were already targeting the Internet Party even before the alliance with Mana).

The piece is quite different in tone to the official Fightback statement, which was much more critical of the Internet Party alliance. (http://fightback.org.nz/2014/09/21/establishment-combines-to-kick-hone-o...) There are debates over this that cut through different far left groups (which are all very small in NZ, but all to some degree involved in Mana).

***

Where next: Reflections on a defeat

Fightback is committed to the MANA Movement, however there are differences in opinion over the nature of the Internet MANA electoral campaign. Ben Peterson (Fightback/MANA Otautahi) offers one perspective.

In the wake of the crushing election defeat, the left in Aotearoa, particularly members of the MANA movement needs to take careful lessons. The Internet Party alliance was a gamble,and it did not pay off. Being open about that is important. But recognising failures cannot be used as an excuse to withdraw into sectarian politics and practices.

The IP alliance was an attempt to share MANA’s political alternative to new layers of people. MANA’s message has a loyal following, but one that is politically isolated from much of the population. The alliance was an attempt to break out of this isolation and to build our movement for change. Unfortunately, this attempt failed. While the vote did slightly increase, and some activists did join Mana who might not have done otherwise, it was not enough. Dotcom was portrayed as a force that discredited MANA’s message. While MANA did not water down its politics, the perception was that a ‘deal’ had been done. This perception combined with the pressure of the entire political establishment combined to defeat Hone in Te Tai Tokerau, and the movement has lost its seat in parliament.

This is a bitter failure, and it is one that we need to reflect on.

But this cannot be used as an excuse to unnecessarily withdraw. Some socialists will use this as an excuse to turn back easier fields, such a small campus groups or activist niches. But this leaves us in exactly the same place as we find ourselves after this failed electoral experiment. One road was not successful in reaching new people and building our movement, the other does not even try to. Both roads will fail to build sustained and articulate movements for change.

Learning the lessons from this campaign will mean doing more, not less. It will mean building stronger and politically clearer projects of the left. The mainstream media played a central role in undermining MANA and distorting our message. We need to build our own media projects to fight the battle of ideas and build our pro people alternatives.

Our pro people message is best shown when people themselves express it. Building movements and taking to the streets articulates the strength of ordinary people. Activists will have to build stronger organisation in our unions and communities. Building larger organisations of fight engaged in struggle can help to build the audience for radical ideas.

The campaign for InternetMANA did show that this is possible. The attendance generated at the roadshows, and the increase in volunteers willing to work for the movement shows there is a basis for an alternative. In hindsight, it was naive to think that this could be translated into an electoral challenge effectively overnight.

But if we can organise and build on these seeds, organisationally and politically, it can be a stepping stone for struggles in the coming months and years. I think socialists need to collectively think about how to respond to these challenges and how we are going to work more effectively, together, going forward.

http://fightback.org.nz/2014/09/23/where-next-reflections-on-a-defeat/

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