This special, expanded election edition of Fightback magazine comes at what seems to be a turning point in the 2014 election. The shockwaves from Dirty Politics, Nicky Hager’s exposé of the possibly corrupt relations between National Party cabinet ministers and the tabloid attack blog “Whale Oil”, are still reverberating. Labour and the left opposition parties want answers; John Key is stonewalling, and even the conservative press seem to realise something has gone wrong.
Daphne Lawless’ contribution discusses this in terms of “anti-politics from above” in New Zealand – a neoliberal-inspired political strategy to use smear and negativity to demoralise activists and deliberately depress voting turnout. Ben Peterson takes on the same issue as an attempted undermining of democracy itself. National lost under Don Brash in 2005 because he allowed the naked, nasty face of neoliberalism to assert itself. The project goes much more smoothly under John Key, the “relaxed” and cheerful frontman, who plays at being an “ordinary bloke” who just happened to make $50 million in currency speculation. Meanwhile, big corporates dictate policy, and cronies and friends like Cameron Slater and Jason Ede play the politics of personal destruction.
Will Hager’s revelation of the naked face of attack politics behind National’s carefully bland façade damage their prospects for a third term? A lot depends on the other conservative parties. Cameron Slater is explicitly quoted in the book as saying that, if MMP stays and the small parties of the Right fall out of Parliament, “National is f**ked”. Byron Clark looks at the centre-right as a whole and examines its prospects.
What is the alternative, though? As Ian Anderson ably explains in his article, Labour offers a kinder, gentler face to the same old management of neo-liberalism. While Labour no longer shuns the Green Party, this can only be because the Greens themselves have moved inside the “big tent” of accepting neoliberal corporate politics – the left wing of the establishment, the party of comfortable but socially conscious small business and successful professionals.
So under what circumstances can a socialist organisation like Fightback – pushing for a fundamental transformation of relations of work, production and power throughout society – support an alliance of the tino rangatiratanga / broad left MANA movement with the upstart Internet Party, founded by a German millionaire with an outlandish personality? Fightback works within MANA because of its commitment to represent te pani me te rawakore [the poor and the dispossessed]. We are able to keep working because it is a democratic party – when the leadership is wrong, it is willing to listen to activists; and because no real change in Aotearoa-New Zealand is possible without the most intimate involvement of the tangata whenua.
But to some degree MANA represents “traditional” constituencies for the radical left. The Internet Party, in contrast, aims at the young and the wired. Although funded by Kim Dotcom, the party is led by activists of the traditional social-democratic Left such as leader Laila Harré, and kept moving by younger activists such as Miriam Pierard, who is interviewed extensively in this issue. While not attracted to a “traditional” socialist programme, these young people – according to Pierard – have a strong belief in civil liberties, social equality, freedom of information and an antipathy to corporate power. Traditional politics has had nothing to say to them until now.
It is precisely the Internet Party and MANA Movement’s constituencies which the strategy of Whale Oil and his co-thinkers want to keep out of politics altogether. They want electoral choice restricted to, at the extreme, the now rather tame Green Party. The Internet-MANA alliance aims at complementary audiences with the same vision seen from two perspectives. With current polls showing five MPs to be elected from this alliance, this is the best chance since the 1990s for those excluded from the “rock-star” neoliberal economy to vote for an alternative. Fightback encourages all readers to take that chance.