LOBSTER STUFFED WITH TACOS: MANA.COM AND THE STATE OF MMP

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Moe: Hey! Hey! Sabu! I need another magnum of your best champagne here, huh. And bring us the finest food you got stuffed with the second finest.
Waiter: Excellent, sir. Lobster stuffed with tacos.
-The Simpsons, Dumbbell Indemnity

The potential merger/ alliance between the Mana Party and Kim Dotcom’s Internet Party is the equivalent of lobster stuffed with tacos or, depending on your political beliefs, a dead pigeon stuffed with rat feces then wrapped and deep fried in a Soviet flag as an unappetising political chimichanga. Simply put, it shouldn’t be. Mana is primarily an indigenous rights and socialist party, and the Internet Party is focused on civil libertarianism, internet freedom and supposed to appeal to younger, urban, National-leaning voters. The proposed deal has split Mana, with Sue Bradford threatening to leave, presumably followed by remaining socialists including John Minto.

Theoretically, Mana had the potential to be a Socialist-Indigenous MMP party but this action reveals it as an unequal partnership. Hone Harawira’s actions reflects the worst aspects of the left wing Alliance Party of Jim Anderton: a party of conflicted identity, driven by the whim of one person in an unequal partnership, and had Matt McCarten along for the ride.

‘Mana.com’ and many of the political choices and likely outcomes in the forthcoming general election reflect the deficiencies of MMP culture: personality driven, ideologically incoherent, and with unsustainable parties.

New Zealand’s political party system evolved similarly from British and European class-based ideologies and has maintained this path for most of modern history. All modern western politics is rooted in the Industrial Revolution. Three class-based ideological movements representing three class constituencies emerged during the late 19th century: working class social democracy representing the trade union movement; an upper class, conservative movement from industrialists, religion, and landowners; and middle class liberalism from educated professionals. From the Industrial Revolution until after World War One, Western political systems were typically dominated by conservatives and liberals. In New Zealand during the 1900s to the Great Depression, the party system was dominated by the Liberal Party which succeeded by the right-ish United Party, the rural conservative Reform Party, and a collection of small socialist parties that united as the Labour Party in 1916. When Labour won the 1935 General Election, the United and Reform parties, having already coalesced in government during the Great Depression, founded the conservative liberal National Party.

By the late 20th century, post-industrial movements such as environmentalism and anti-immigration have added to this theoretical mix, enabled by New Zealand’s adoption of MMP as a voting system. MMP inventors Germany or any typical western European proportional parliament would now include social democrats, conservatives, greens, and mostly but not exclusively democratic socialists, far-right/ anti-immigration populists, and classical liberal/ libertarians. In New Zealand, this extends to include Maori politics which, though historically dominated by Labour, contains a uniquely indigenous parliamentary politics.

Though the introduction of MMP has certainly diversified the political party system, New Zealand has not achieved such a vibrancy of sustainable ideologies like that of Germany or western Europe, largely due to factors unique to New Zealand.

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Partially this is the result of political parties founded due to splits from Labour and National, ideological circumstances, and cross-ideological alliances of convenience. New Zealand First, founded as Winston Peters’ split from National in 1992, was a product of Muldoon and his protege Winston: social conservatism, populist state intervention, and, from my observations as a reporter for Select Committee News, a touch of the Rotarian in the form of curious, diligent MPs. It has also been reliant on Winston’s personality and initially a combination of Maori activism of the ‘Tight Five’ against more Pakeha conservatism.

The Alliance was rooted in New Labour’s split from the Labour by Rogernomics opponent Jim Anderton. The successor Alliance Party was an often contradictory coalition including New Labour Party, the Greens, the Maori Party forerunner Mana Motuhake, and the remnants of the former Social Credit Party, and was dominated by Anderton’s leadership and fell apart because of it. ACT similarly emerged as a consequence of Rogernomics, though in favour of further action, having been founded by Roger Douglas and included former Lange ministers and Rogernomes Richard Prebble and Ken Shirley.

The Maori Party emerged from Tariana Turia’s resignation from Labour but in fairness was built on a grassroots movement already developing before Turia’s split.

The United Party, the predecessor to United Future, was created as a coalition of Labour and National MPs as a party lacking any real demand for it and only having survived due to Peter Dunne’s hold on the Ohariu electorate. Ditto the former Christian Coalition, which was like a pleasant trifle at a church fete, albeit ruined by a layer of pedophillic sponge.

From the initial years of MMP, only the Green Party has emerged as a quintessential MMP party because it was borne out of a grassroots movement and has become an entrenched third party. The Maori Party and Mana would not count as MMP parties because they still rely on electorate seats. They have enough support base to become sustainable only if they unite, which is a huge challenge, hence Harawira’s preference for Mana.com. ACT, despite initially strong election results, political base, and politically competent MPs besides Prebble, it has relied on Epsom and won’t overcome this unless it achieves an ideological balance within and with the public. The Conservative Party is Colin Craig’s party: lacking ideology or strong public support, reliant on Craig’s financial largesse, and has spent more than Labour and more per voter than any other party in 2011. A less bombastic version of Clive Palmer without the dinosaurs and with monorail pods rather than Titanic II.

A recent opportunity to reform this system was the Constitutional Commission on MMP. The recommendations of lowering the party vote threshold from 5% to 4% and ending the one electorate seat exception for list seats could have potentially ended parties more reliant on leadership and electorate rather than ideological base.The National Government rejected these findings and opted for the electoral system to remain unchanged.

Conveniently, National’s electoral options remain positive. Initially, National contemplated the withdrawal of Murray McCully from East Coast Bays to support Colin Craig’s candidacy, but was probably influenced by the so-far political ineptness of Colin Craig. National may opt to support ACT’s David Seymour in Epsom and perhaps gain some MPs riding the coattails.

Mana’s proposal is partly indicative of the state of New Zealand political party culture. Due to the ghosts of FPP and for political convenience, it’s easy to expect more lobsters stuffed with tacos for the near future.

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5 comments

  1. Ellipsister

    Good post. I’m not sure its clear though that Harawira has a ‘preference’ 4 Dotcom although I do see how that inference could be drawn. I also wonder if Minto wants a sniff at power? I’d have expected him to be very public (like Bradford, whose proving to be a very principled politician) if he opposed.

    • finetoothcolumn

      Fair point. “Preference” is only apt insofar as it’s more of a lack of choice between only going it alone again vs the money and coverage of an alliance with Dotcom. Mana’s probably stuck where it is as a one seat indigenous-left alliance unless Annette Sykes wins Waiariki or they were to put someone like Bradford as deputy/ co-leader and no. 2 on list. I don’t know if she didn’t want it or it wasn’t possible. Despite earlier hopes among the left, it’s hardly transformed into what the Alliance could have been but a far less successful version of what the Alliance actually was: personalities. I do wonder about Minto too, as he’s invested so much of his reputation crossing into parliamentary politics for this. You’re right that his silence is baffling, so maybe he’s undecided. Going along with this might destroy his credibility. Depends on how much he wants power, maybe he’ll be ranked second on the list?

      • Ellipsister

        Yeah. I think their AGM is this Thursday, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see. I’m dubious of Minto – I admit he has done a great deal of activism for the left in NZ, but on occasion he has downplayed important matters relating to his left wing alliances that he’d pounce on the right for. I’m not sure he’d 2nd on list though. I imagine that’ll be reserved for Sykes in the event Flavell wins Waiariki and in the hope that Mana get enough votes to coat tail in at least another MP. This I suspect would change if a merger occurred – then I imagine Internet Party candidate would sit at number 2? (although I don’t know how they intend to structure if they do agree merger or joint venture of whatever description). Interesting times ahead. I heard WIllie Jackson defending a merger today. That was bizarre. But he said its politics and get over it because while we look for the perfect combination, people miss out. Pretty certain he has a great deal of influence over Mana too.

      • finetoothcolumn

        If number two, would have to be someone known and more acceptable to Mana. Martyn Bradbury is my only guess, though maybe too close? Will be interesting to see how it pans out.

  2. Pingback: IT’S JUST A JUMP TO THE LEFT: THOUGHTS ON THE INTERNET MANA PARTY | Fine Tooth Column

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