An aspiring Dotcom party member gushed in an email on Thursday: “A party that’s ALL about the future, not the past.” But is it?
Compare the Values party formed a few months before the 1972 election.
Values focused on the physical environment two years after a widely supported petition frightened a National government into retreating from building a high dam at Manapouri. Values appealed particularly to a rising generation which bothered more about biodiversity and conservation than its parents did.
Values, reincarnated as the Green party, is still relevant. The political themes of environmental biodiversity and conservation of resources have seeped into the big old parties. The Greens are a fixture in Parliament.
The Dotcom — Internet — party focuses heavily on internet freedom, which reflects party “incubator” Kim Dotcom’s business adventures. The “action agenda” copyright reform section wants to “compel global content creators to make their products available here without the usual delays”.
That’s a topical focus. The 2010s are the digital decade, the time when that technology is realising its full potential to profoundly remodel production of all sorts, thereby changing the nature of work and, with that, social and economic organisation. There will be deep, unpredictable political consequences.
The generations most at home in this dimension of modern society are the under-25s and even more so the under-20s, to whom life without smartphone and pad is antiquity.
This generation is even less inclined to vote than the Y and X generations before it. That is in part because politics in the 2010s has wider paths than the one into Parliament.
In one sense this is not new. In Values’ days many of the then-young baby-boomers were issue-activists, far more than their parents were. The 1960s “values revolution” they generated demanded new moral and social freedoms coupled with moral, social and environmental ideals.
What is different now is digital connectivity, which enables more action, more input into policy decisions and more questioning and in turn expects more responsiveness from authority. Dotcom’s party’s “action agenda” promises “faster and better government” because it will “work for the people”.
This use of a wider range of channels for engaging in politics issue by issue, complemented by governments drawing on inputs from outside party and bureaucratic priesthoods is called participatory democracy. It is not a linear development but increasingly some of the public expects to participate at some times in decisions on some things in some way or to some degree or expects at least to be listened to or acknowledged. On the government side a range of mechanisms is being constructed, tested and used to develop, refine and validate policy change.
So in this respect Dotcom’s party is about the future. But will something like the Internet party be around 40 years from now, as Values is still around in the Greens?
One clue is its flirtation with Hone Harawira.
Mana is old-left. Social equity concerns are at its core and, while those will be issues in the future, Mana generally reaches for solutions from the past. Dotcom’s party says it will make policies on those issues later. That is, social policy is an add-on. Dotcom is anti-establishment but at the libertarian end of politics, not the socialist end.
Also, as Sue Bradford (once a Green MP) pointed out, the Internet party is the creation of a rich man who bought his way to citizenship and she would leave Mana if the two link up. Mana and money sound closely similar, as Sir Tipene O’Regan used to say, but in some contexts they are far distant.
A second clue to the Internet party’s potential lifespan is that the internet is anarchic and long-term politics are constructive. Values-Greens’ appeal was to preserve the foundation of all life. Dotcom’s party’s appeal is to 2010s digital-decade freedoms and gratifications.
The fate of similar parties in Europe suggest that a vote on those grounds in September is less likely than 1972 votes on Values’ grounds to turn into a long-term commitment and eventually infect the older parties. Labour’s Clare Curran’s energetic policy work on digital issues and National’s Nikki Kaye’s digital push in education are independent of Dotcom.
But will those attracted to the Internet party actually vote? There is an irony at the heart of this party: that it stands for a departure from old politics but asks for votes in the old politics.
There is a third clue to the party’s potential longevity: Dotcom himself.
He was elevated to a sort of cult figure by the bumbling harassment of him by the police, spy agencies and United States heavies. Black comedy mixed with cause for indignation.
The indignation is softening. The comedy is tainted with a wearying self-aggrandisement. Without Dotcom as a star, will there be much of a party come the 2017 election?
So is this a party “ALL about the future”? Not on the face of it.