Matt McCarten, in an excellent piece in The Herald on Sunday, has suggested that the Hone Harawira expulsion could determine the election. Matt, who is a close advisor to Hone, thinks Hone will form a new party and target the party vote. I guess this almost confirms that Hone will form a new party. However, I am unsure that Hone has the time, skills and support to form a new party. In a previous column Matt made it pretty clear that he is not involved in the formation of a new party. Sue Bradford appears to be in favour one minute and then downplays her enthusiasm the next. Without Matt’s involvement Hone will not be able to delegate the groundwork to a capable pair of hands. Parliamentary and electorate work is all consuming. Hone simply does not have the time to form and launch a new party without experienced operators like Matt and Sue Bradford. Another problem is Hone will find it hard to attract the administrative and political talent needed to form, launch and sustain a party. Let’s be honest, Hone will need the services of youngish, Pakeha, urban middle class administrators and political operatives, however attracting said talent will be difficult. This demographic is hardly responsive to some of Hone strongly held opinions.
But for arguments sake let’s say Hone does form a new party. Matt tells us Hone will run a campaign against the MCA bill, low wages, welfare reform, GST and mining. Matt thinks these issues will mobilise support among Maori and non-Maori working class folk. I am not so sure. Matt’s showed us in Mana that mobilising the poor, not so much the working poor rather beneficiaries, is near impossible. Of the above campaign issues only the MCA bill and mining have proved widely contentious. However, mining was a middle class issue in that it mobilised the middle class, the poor were, well visibly at least, indifferent. Furthermore, the MCA bill has proven more of a Maori concern. Pakeha concern is comparatively light – with the exception of a few rednecks. With the above in mind it becomes obvious that the MCA bill and mining, the two big issues if you like, play to contrasting groups. Low wages, welfare reform and GST have failed to elicit a whisper from those most affected. Without doubt the working poor and beneficiaries are feeling or will feel the bite but there is simply no response. How will Hone ignite and organise a response to these changes? The poor are politically apathetic and apathy has no straightforward cure. Having said that if there is anyone who can speak to the poor and disaffected it is Hone Harawira. I should not write him off so easily.
Matt also suggests that Pita Sharples and Rahui Katene will find it difficult to retain their seats without Hone’s endorsement. Again, I think this is goes a bit far. Pita is damaged but no more than Shane Jones. Shane is hardly an endearing figure and Maori will not return to Labour so easily. Maori are excellent strategic voters and there is really no benefit in returning Shane Jones as the member for Tamaki Makaurau. Hone’s supporters are not going to vote for a man who labels their man a “hoodlum”. Ultimately the voters of Tamaki Makaurau have a shit choice – Shane’s vision is a corporate vision with working class overtones. Pita’s vision is a Maori vision hijacked by a corporate agenda. So it’s basically a contest between which corporate you like best. Arrogant and abrasive Jones or affable and approachable Sharples? The choice is clear. (I will address Rahui Katene and Te Tai Tonga in my next post).
The constituency for a new left party exists. The challenge is to mobilise that constituency. I would love to see a new left party with Hone and Sue Bradford, the two most effective backbenchers in recent memory, and Matt McCarten, the most skilled operator in NZ politics. However, I worry that the practical challenges a new party would face are too great. I hope I’m wrong.