Lessons from Kim Dotcom: How not to start a political party

Lessons from Kim Dotcom: How not to start a political party
Starting a political party to take revenge on a political enemy is a fundamentally flawed platform.

Starting a political party to take revenge on a political enemy is a fundamentally flawed platform.

Halfway through last year I started getting back channel rumours that Kim Dotcom was serious about starting a political party.

There were rumours the Dotty One was consulting simultaneously with Martyn ‘Bomber’ Bradbury, the well-known hard-left argument- starter, and Don Brash, former rockstar central banker and failed right-wing politician. It sounded so mad I put it from my mind.

By time of the Press Gallery Christmas party, Brash seemed to be out of the picture, Bomber’s influence appeared to be on the wane and there were indications Dotcom had been briefing potential political allies in the Labour and Green parties.

idealog kim dotcom internet party

​ILLUSTRATION: Angela Keoghan

The parties of the left were sure he was serious, and none too keen. Being seasoned political operatives rather than self-regarding political ingénues in the blogosphere, they could see as plain as day that a Dotcom party was more likely to draw voters from the same pools as Labour and, particularly, the Greens seek to fish in.

They also knew that Dotcom doesn’t do things by halves. Whatever you think of his business ethics – and a dispassionate look at his criminal convictions suggests the old New Zealand trick of giving a dog a bad name is at work as much as Dotcom is truly a pirate – he has made a pile and could do so again if his Mega business keeps growing and he manages to escape the long arm of the copyright lawyers.

The saturation media spend on promoting his album Good Times suggests he would seek to do the same again in the build-up to an election. Whether he would get good enough advice to do so without breaching election spending rules is moot, as is whether he really has the cashflow to do it.

Yet even with such luminaries as public law specialist Mai Chen’s firm on the case drawing up the party’s constitution and a bevy of advisers of various ilks, ranging from Scoop founder Alastair Thompson and PR guru Mark Blackham, Dotcom horribly muffed the launch of the Internet Party. Being the pro he is, Blackham managed to keep his name out of the debacle that followed while Thompson, being more the enthusiastic amateur with a passion for internet freedom, managed to shoot off both feet at once before rapidly bowing out and seeking to hobble back to journalistic credibility.

The performance of the Internet Party so far suggests that two iron rules of politics haven’t changed.

One, unless you’re a one-off like Bob Jones, who well understood the society into which he launched the New Zealand Party in 1984, businesspeople generally make crappy politicians. Quite apart from anything else, they don’t realise they can’t control outcomes with money and commands like you do in business.

And secondly, don’t go off half-cocked. The Internet Party might have had a shot at five percent, had it been well-executed, although exactly who that would have helped is hard to say. As it stands, its shambolic start puts it way behind where it might have been.

Perhaps there’s a third rule here. One that applies only to Dotcom: starting a political party to take revenge on a political enemy is
a fundamentally flawed platform. In the end, Dotcom is a libertarian, a natural ally of the Act and National parties, not the left.

Yet he was never going to work with either of those natural allies, since his ultimate agenda was to bury them both, if possible.