Today I’ve announced that I will be stepping down from the Internet Party leadership in December. This will happen once options for the future have been developed for discussion and decision among members.
My absolute focus in this election was on achieving a change of government. Of course I wish Hone, Annette Sykes, myself some of our crew were in Parliament. But we are not, and the electoral system is heavily weighted against new entrants. Dependence on winning a general seat or 5% is a very high bar.
I believe that you should have confidence that you can win seats in Parliament if you are going to spend precious time, social capital and resources on building a political party. I had that confidence right up to Election Day, but now I think the balance of probabilities for the Internet Party has changed. A political party is naturally exclusive and competitive. If it is not in Parliament, or people don’t see it getting there, then it is easy for its ideas to be dismissed.
When I said yes to the Internet Party in May it was obvious that Labour and the Greens would not win enough votes to form a majority government. A change of government would require every single progressive vote to count.
That included Internet Party voters, and for that to be assured the deal with MANA was critical. To achieve it MANA needed to have confidence in the political leadership of the Internet Party. That’s how my name emerged in discussions between the two parties.
My decision to lead the Internet Party was made just a couple of days before the announcement of the Internet MANA agreement. Before the announcement I tried to meet both David Cunliffe and Russel Norman, getting only as far as senior staff.
I knew that the existence of the Internet Party and the potential for Internet MANA was highly inconvenient to both of them. However, I also know that the starting point for successful political strategy is your real environment not the environment you wish you were in. Indeed I suggested Russel talk to Kim Dotcom many weeks before he did, in an attempt to dissuade Kim from starting the Internet Party. Russel’s response then was that it would be a waste of time. I disagreed (and still do) but that was then, this is now, and by May it was certainly too late to stop the Internet Party. Accepting Internet MANA as allies in changing the government was the only thing that made sense.
To a person, the Internet Party and MANA crews were uncompromisingly focused on a change of government.
To achieve that, there were always at least three things every “change of government party” had to do to be a credible alternative: (a) supporting Cunliffe; (b) building acceptance that a Parliamentary majority did not have to look like a single sun (National) with a few planets rotating around it; and (c) demonstrating respect for each other and sharing constructive feedback.
The spin that Labour and Green leaders have put on the impact of Internet MANA needs to be critically analysed. It was only the momentum created by the deal and then the growth of support during the road show that put Labour and the Greens within winning distance of government. We took the fight to Key in a way that they were not prepared to do, and for a while it paid off.
Later in the campaign our momentum fell off dramatically. Our own political mismanagement weakened our ability to respond to a full attack by the right, and the capitulation of other change the government parties to that narrative.
It was New Zealand First who capitalised on Dirty Politics.
Hopefully Labour’s post-election review will look at the impact of its desire to mirror National (never credible) and play boss party with everyone else (except with Winston Peters who they just seemed scared of).
And the Greens should reflect on the course they charted in early April. When they gave Labour an ultimatum on pre-announcing a coalition and then leaked details of those discussions I was still on the Green Party campaign committee. I thought the tactic was dangerous and would reduce the chance of changing the government. To me it signalled that competition with Labour would infect the Green campaign, and I’d been there and done that with Jim Anderton until the 1999 election and did not care for it. This was weeks before I talked to anyone from the Internet Party.
For Internet MANA’s part we stuck to the a, b, c above. But in the wake of the momentum building road trip we made some pretty basic errors in strategy and behaviour and in the context of an unrelenting attack we didn’t recover from them. That is another blog.
For now, a conclusion.
In this election, many of us worked with the idea that changing the government was like putting together a jigsaw. Yes, there were some wiggly pieces, but we could see a picture. I still firmly believe that jigsaw could have been completed with some co-operation.
Next time around I’d like to think we can do better than just a political jigsaw. To that end I am stepping away from the electoral focus for now to pay more attention to the “why” of the “Why we need change” question. The limits of the election discourse exposed just how much more deeply and widely we need to build acceptance of the need for social change.
I cut my political teeth at a time when not a single progressive person believed that user pays tertiary education was ok. I stood on platforms this year where all our potential partners in a parliamentary majority defended it as (at best) a necessary evil. I want to change the government in 2017. But I want things like that to change with it.