Thursday 16 January 2014

We like to party (party)

We like to party, hey, hey, hey! hey! hey! hey!
(We like to party!)
We like to party, hey, hey, hey! hey! hey! hey!
(We like to party!)

In the aptly named "Party" by Beyonce, OutKast's Andre 3000 raps "Man, we just in the food court, eating our gyros." Similarly, the 2014 election has attracted all sorts of party nonsense as new entrants try to stake a position for themselves early in the year. Brendan Horan, Ben Uffindell, and Kim Dotcom have all indicated their intentions thus far.

In one corner, we have Brendon Horan back from the threat of legal action to announce his "New Zealand Independent Coalition", a party of... independents. As oxymoronic as this may seem, the mechanism seems like a pretty good idea. Essentially, the party might enter a supply and confidence agreement with the government for governance purposes but not be forced to vote on any "party lines" on legislation. Party members in the electorate of each MP would be polled on each vote using "mobile digital technology", and those MPs would be forced to represent those views.

It sounds nice in theory; representative democracy and allowing "New Zealanders to have a voice throughout the parliamentary term" are good things. But there are three big problems. Firstly, it appears that only party members will have a vote, blocking out the rest of the electorate and likely biasing this particular sample towards one side of the political spectrum. Secondly, this system only works if the votes are informed; the majority of legislation pushed through Parliament does not interest the public, so votes will suffer from self-selection bias. How many people in an average electorate are going to be interested in the "Kaipara District Council (Validation of Rates and Other Matters) Bill", or have enough of an understanding of the "Financial Markets Conduct Bill" to vote intelligently (ignoring that this rhetorical question should probably be applied to our current MPs as well)? Thirdly, it's fronted by Brendan Horan, who even though has been cleared of any misconduct regarding his mother's money, has been given a reputation that may be hard to shake off. As much as he tries, any attempt to implement this mechanism will inevitably draw attention to his past and clutter the news with "... Horan was a MP for New Zealand First until he was expelled over allegations of inappropriate use of his mother's bank cards as she was dying." Ouch.

Secondly, with abated breath we await the arrival of The Civilian Party, who help fill the void left by the imprisonment of one half of the Bill and Ben Party. There are only three requirements to become a member of the party: you have to be 18, you have to be either a citizen of a permanent resident of NZ (and have lived here continuously for at least a year), and "want ice cream or want others to have ice cream". Their website is to be launched later this week (so... tomorrow), and presents a difficult dilemna for the young voters who don't want to take things seriously: do they vote for Kim Dotcom's party because he's not a suit like the rest of them and does cool things like partying at Rhythm and Vines and putting on fireworks shows, or do they cast their precious vote on the party that aims to "give [Peter Dunne] some encouragement, and let him know that getting 500 members to form a political party isn't actually that hard when you really put your mind to it." Back in 2008, the Bill and Ben party secured 13,016 votes (0.56%), a ridiculously large number for a satirical party whose campaign strategy was "it's just as easy to tick our box as any others." If The Civilian Party is successful, the biggest victims won't be National or Labour; it will be other minor parties who are already struggling to get the votes they need to cross the 5% party vote threshold (because they have no shot of winning any electorates). At least it might boost our voter participation numbers.

And last but not least, we have Kim Dotcom and the Internet Party. No shortage of controversy here; on the same day that the party logo was revealed, the bastion of investigative journalism that is Cameron Slater/WhaleOil revealed an early campaign strategy document compiled by Martyn "Bomber" Bradbury, a well known left-wing activist with previous ties to the Mana Party described by Listener Magazine in 2005 as "the most opinionated man in New Zealand". With an impressive production of hatred and vitriol at The Daily Blog (a left-wing blog interestingly almost entirely funded by unions), the revelation of this association immediately cooled off the hype surrounding the Internet Party. Additionally, Scoop's Parliamentary Press Gallery journalist and editor Alastair Thompson was forced to resign from his job when it turned out that he was deeply involved with the Internet Party, including registering their domain under his own name. Not that we ever believed that the news media were completely independent and unbiased, but to get caught with your hand in the cookie jar (or in this case, real name on the internet) seems a bit too amateur hour.

On top of this, Kim Dotcom's "The Party Party" (a free event to celebrate his birthday and album launch and have absolutely nothing to do with his political party in any way shape or form) attracted 25,000 registrations within a day, had to be moved to a larger venue, and was then promptly cancelled when the Electoral Commission kindly proactively informed Doctom that this could be interpreted as treating. Not knowing what treating was myself, it turns out that you can't give people free "food, drink, or entertainment" to get people to vote for you. So there's a good portion of Dotcom's "throw money at it" strategy down the toilet, making it quite a bit harder for him to appeal to his target demographic of young voters. We still don't know very much about what policies the Internet Party will have, and there are plenty of suspicions as to the real intentions behind the formation of the party. The revelation of Bomber Bradbury's involvement has instantly created a large amount of distrust, although it is unlikely that this will affect the disenfranchised young voter bloc that Dotcom is going for anyway. Whether the party will be able to move past these initial snafus remains to be seen.

Honourable Mention: John Boscawen announcing that he is seeking the Act Party's nomination to stand in Epsom and seeking to become the party leader. At this stage, Act might as well be a new minor party given that their only MP, John Banks, has pretty much left the scene amid his electoral fraud trials. Immediately throwing away any opportunity for new blood to reinvigorate the party, this attempt at appealing to the party faithful should all but seal their demise.

And to round it all off, here's a video of a typical New Zealand party/protest (courtesy of @PorridgeFish):

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