With several months having gone since the general election, it is perhaps possible to see the events of that time with an increasing amount of clarity.
As we all know, the Internet-Mana party was attacked at its weakest point, as everything hinged on Hone retaining his seat in his electorate. Four other parties urged their supporters to vote Labour, knowing that was the best chance of unseating him, and needless to say, all of these parties saw Mana as the dangerous one, the only party that threatened real change to the status quo. Along with a relentless media campaign, and such long-term Key strategies as getting onside with sports stars to influence their fans to uncritically vote for National, the plan worked and many people were prepared to write off Mana’s future.
But the loss of the one seat in parliament might create a false impression about the underlying influence of Internet Mana, both before the election and, now as separate parties again, in the future.
On the one hand, the alliance with the Internet party brought in a lot of people, particularly younger people, formerly feeling alienated from the political system, who now were able to relate to its policies. On the other hand, it is claimed that the association with Kim Dotcom turned off many of Mana’s traditional supporters, though I and many others believe that much of this was a result of a vicious one-sided media campaign and that Dotcom has been treated very badly by the NZ government and media. Which of these two factors was most influential? The answer can be seen in the number of votes cast for Mana, a rise of about 50% since last time, indicating that its underlying support in the community is stronger than ever, in spite of the loss of its seat in parliament.
It may have been a surprise to some people what the actual issues of most concern to New Zealanders are, according to a poll taken at the time of the election, which has probably changed little since: inequality, and free tertiary education. This is quite astonishing as the actual policies, of any party, were hardly talked about at the time of the election, the debate mostly being dominated by the dirty politics issue. These issues are absolutely central to the policies of the Mana party, and are only addressed at best in a watered-down form by any other party. I came across a number of people during the election campaign, especially those who did the Vote Compass, who were surprised to find that, based on the policies they agreed with, they were basically (Internet) Mana voters – yet they had never really thought of themselves as Mana voters. One of the ways forward for Mana is to, by insistently pushing these policies to the fore, make people familiar with the idea that this is the party that most represents the policies the average decent New Zealander agrees with.
For the Mana party, despite being the smallest of the parties on the left, is actually the engine room of progressive politics. The only other party that comes close is the Greens, with their policies of higher taxes on the rich above a certain income and softening the burden of student loans, formulated during the election campaign. But the Green’s policies were basically a response to public opinion in the lead-up to the election, whereas Mana’s are at the very core of what Mana represents, and have been for some years. Mana’s policy for a financial transactions tax has been in place for years and addresses the issue of inequality at its heart, and all the numbers have been done, which includes showing that free tertiary education could be achieved with only a fraction of the money saved. The Green’s policies are a diluted and somewhat piecemeal version of Mana’s, just as Labour’s are a very much milder form, compromised by trying to keep onside with the centre ground. So, across the spectrum of the ‘left’, Mana is the party that boldly represents how things should be – and how most people think they should be – and those policies become more and more diluted as you move across the parties closer to the centre, to the point that Labour is perceived by many, here as in other countries, as a ‘rich man’s party’ with little relevance to the concerns of many young people and in fact the majority of middle New Zealanders.
So Mana might be out of parliament for now, but the future, and the way its policies resonate with the population at large, looks good.