The chances of a broad-based Left-wing party rising from the ashes of Hone Harawira's meltdown with the Maori Party have been dashed after he made it clear that any group he led would have to be Maori-focused.
So Hone has announced that any new party he forms will be Maori focussed. I do not think this necessarily precludes the possibility that the party will be broadly left wing. Certainly tino rangatiratanga finds a natural ally in the left - the recognition of indigenous rights is almost the exclusive domain of the left in fact. Hone appreciates this. In this post I want to discuss why Hone Harawira must launch a broad left wing party rather than a single issue alternative Maori party.
If Hone were to form an alternative Maori party he must, in the interest of electoral success, destroy the current Maori Party. The numbers required to sustain both a left wing Maori party and a right wing Maori party do not exist. The Party vote for the current Maori Party is already exceedingly low and it is fair to assume that there is little potential to tap new and existing, yet inactive, voters. The Green Maori vote is also exceedingly low. The Labour Maori vote remains significant yet there are dangers in attempting to bite a piece off of the Labour Party. For the moment, Hone needs the Labour Party in terms of support in the House and around Parliament. Any new party Hone forms will also be ideologically tied to Labour. Now if Hone were to pursue the Labour Maori vote Labour could respond in kind and attempt to stymie Hone. Erect barriers in an attempt to protect their voter base. For example Labour, if threatened, could silence Hone in the House by refusing to offer him anymore speaking slots. Cut off his oxygen supply essentially. Hones best options is to target the politically inactive. The constituency exists and I firmly believe Hone, in cohort with Matt McCarten, is, or are, the people to finally reach out to that untapped market often called the underclass.
Most people can list three or four political values and issues that mean a lot to them. The reality is that most people will not list flags on bridges, international treaties and customary rights near the top. The cost of living, wages and welfare will come out near the top of most lists, therefore it is crucial that Hone take a broader view. The current Maori Party continues to collect a considerable amount of criticism for the party’s perceived focus on symbolic wins as opposed to substantive wins. This should signal to Hone that a focus on Maori values such as the recognition of some rights is not enough to placate Maori. At the end of the day Maori, like everyone else, want to enjoy a higher standard of living, job security etc. And of course the underclass, I loathe the connotations of that word but it is the common designation we all understand, is not exclusively Maori. The underclass consists of the working poor, Pakeha beneficiaries and in many cases Pakeha pensioners. With this in mind it becomes clear that the pitch must be much wider. Although any new party Hone launches will not rely on the party vote, for the time being that is, if Hone wants to drag any new MP’s in with him he must ensure his messages, policies etc resonate with a wide audience.
Hone is not stupid and I think he knows that there is no room for an alternative Maori party, the political marketplace is already crammed and, as one commentator put it, an alternative Maori party will occupy a niche within a niche. All of this talk of a Maori focussed party is, in my opinion, a distraction. It is a call to action to Hone’s tino rangatiratanga supporters. These people will provide the rank and file foundations of a new party. Hone has already floated the names of his advisors - Matt McCarten, Willie Jackson, Sandra Lee etc – the administrative and logistical support already exists in the form of the Unite Union and former Maori Party staffers as well. Therefore, all that is needed now is the 500 person membership quota. For that reason Hone is touring the country talking about this Maori focussed party because he needs to attract the already politically active i.e. current and former Maori Party supporters. No use targeting the politically inactive just yet.
What is also interesting is Sue Bradfords attempts to not so much distance herself from the new party but rather talk down her enthusiasm. Hone and Sue are close personal friends and I have no doubt that the two have been working closely over the past few months so naturally I cannot quite figure out why she is attempting to down play the whole thing.
The most widely cited danger in forming a new left party is the effect it will have on the Green Party. In my opinion these concerns are largely unfounded. The Greens target the urban middle class vote whereas any party Hone forms will target, as I have said, the underclass. The two parties will play to completely different voter bases. Admittedly a new left party could attract the social activists among the Greens. These people are few and far between though and the environmental aspect of the Greens is a strong pull in their favour. A vote for the Greens is a vote for 21st century eco-capitalism, a vote for Hone’s new party is a vote for social democracy. The two are not similar and the overlap will be minimal.
Hopefully I can attend one of Hone’s hui, although I think he has already held his Wellington hui? It will be interesting to hear what he has to say and then solidify or reform my thoughts. In any event I hope he will opt for a broad left wing party. The Maori Party serves its purpose and the left is in dire need of a real left party. But most of all the underclass needs a voice. Our democracy and our society will be stronger for it.