2011 will be, politically, an interesting year for Maori. The Maori Party (MP) should come out of the election in a strong position, assuming ceteris paribus, and the foreshore and seabed issue will either conclude or explode. The release of further aspects of the Wai 262 report will be a hot political issue, Maori youth unemployment and the growth of the Maori underclass will feature prominently in the minds of Maori and Whanau Ora will continue to cause grief for proponents and opponents alike.
Post election the MP will, according to many commentators and i-predict, be kingmakers. This is assuming the party retains the five seats they currently hold. In my opinion this is not a given. Rahui Katene may lose her seat if the party continue to support the MCA bill in its current form. Hone, Tariana and Pita have a firm grip on their seats but Te Ururoa’s grip on Waiariki is more fragile. If Labour put up a credible local candidate (Annette Sykes jumps to mind) I think Te Ururoa will have a real challenge on his hands. However, I think it is safe to assume at this point the party will be neither weaker nor stronger post election.
The bigger question is will Hone agree to prop up a National led government for a second term. I do not think he will. It will come down to a clash of personality and ideology between Hone and Tariana. Hone will not sacrifice his principles and I cannot imagine Tariana agreeing to work with those who stabbed a thousand daggers in her back. Tariana is no fan of her old masters, Phil Goff in particular, and is more conservative in outlook than Hone who is left leaning in most respects, however a Maori nationalist first and foremost. I have always imagined that factions exist within the party. Party members are mainly tino rangatiratanga advocates/Maori nationalists who, ideologically, are aligned with Hone, whereas the Parliamentary wing of the Party, excluding Hone, is slightly more conservative and pragmatic than the party faithful. Tariana will find it difficult to reconcile the two.
There is significant discontent among Maori about the party’s relationship with National. But Tariana knows this is the political reality and it would be hard to manage the relationship any better. The same sort of policy win/policy loss ratio would exist with Labour as well – it is just the nature of small parties and their relationship with power.
But back to the clash between Hone and Tariana. Tariana will win. She has the unqualified support of Pita and Rahui and to a lesser extent Te Ururoa. Although I believe Te Ururoa shares more in common with Hone he is a loyal and disciplined subject. Given this situation would Hone go it alone? I think so. Assuming National need ACT and the MP to govern I imagine Hone will hold the balance of power. If he left the MP would National still have the numbers to govern? Hone could demand considerable concessions if this situation eventuates.
This situation would have interesting ramifications in terms of the foreshore and seabed and other important Maori issues. The MP could push for a far better deal if they are in a position to decide who occupies the Treasury benches. The party would actually have effective leveraging power.
Throughout this post I have mentioned Tariana as the central figure in the MP. This is because I believe Pita is largely irrelevant. Tariana clearly wears the pants - the Party direction is dictated solely by her. This is worrying for anyone hoping for a Labour led government but comforting for those wishing to see the opposite. Either way it’s going to be interesting.