Let’s be clear. Hone Harawira will win the byelection (assuming he forces one). In this post I want to discuss why.
But before we can examine why Hone will win, we need to understand why he is forcing, or more accurately intends to force, a byelection. Firstly, Hone intends to use the byelection as an early election year platform. A byelection will, theoretically, provide four weeks of sustained and intensive media coverage. Hone can use the byelection as a platform to launch Mana Party policy and project the party’s values, image and so on into the public consciousness. A byelection will also allow the Mana Party to direct public discourse on Maori issues and working class issues. The Mana Party is now the de facto opposition to the Maori Party (Labour barely rates a mention) and will hope to serve as the de facto opposition on working class issues during the byelection. Ultimately, the Mana Party intends to cement their place in political discourse i.e. advocates for Maori issues and advocates for working class issues.
The second yet less prominent reason Hone intends to force a byelection is to affirm his mandate.
But the central reason Hone has signalled he intends to force a byelection is to bait the Maori Party. Hone wanted the Maori Party to stand a candidate against him and they fell for it. The door is now open for the Mana Party to stand in the other Maori electorates, bar maybe Te Tai Hauauru and Te Tai Tonga. Conceivably Hone did not want to be the one to break the agreement – his strongest attribute is his perceived integrity after all. This is what Hone had to say:
"Despite massive pressure by many people to put candidates up against the Maori Party MPs, I have resisted the temptation because I believe it is important to stand behind a promise you make.
Hone wanted to maintain his honest guy image.
The Mana Party knows that Waiariki and Ikaroa-Rawhiti are marginal seats, and possibly Tamaki-Makaurau and Hauraki-Waikato. The Mana Party needs the Maori electorates as a fall back in case the party does not attract an acceptable number of party votes. However, Hone and co. did not want to sacrifice their integrity and break the deal struck with the Maori Party. The Mana Party needed to be the passive player, the guy playing a fair game, as opposed to the aggressor. The party therefore chose to bait the Maori Party and force their hand.
So why will Hone win the byelection?
Firstly, Hone Harawira enjoys a personal following – not a Maori Party following. Almost 62% of electors voted for Hone Harawira at the 2008 election while only 31% of electors voted for the Maori Party. Hone is a minor celebrity in the North and a man who commands a considerable amount of respect. He works tirelessly for Te Tai Tokerau and continues to consult his electorate with regard to his political decision and his parliamentary work.
Secondly, Hone is the incumbent. Incumbency comes with a few advantages. Hone can tap networks he has worked with in his capacity as the MP for Te Tai Tokerau, for example Hauora (Maori social service providers) and Runanga. The incumbent also enjoys name recognition and the ability to point towards a parliamentary record and a record of achievement on behalf of the electorate. The incumbent can also work from his/her electorate offices and utilise the resources and staff that come with.
Thirdly, Hone Harawira has the common touch with Maori. The Maori version of smile and wave. What many mainstream commentators do not appear to appreciate is that brand Harawira is extremely powerful. Brand Harawira, unlike Brand Key, is not refined nor entirely intentional. However, it is persuasive and attractive. Important Maori concepts, such as manaakitanga, are expressed in Brand Harawira. More contemporary Maori values are also reflected in Brand Harawira, for example Hone is “straight up” and seems to reject “flashness” yet retains a certain amount of swagger. Many Maori, especially young Maori and Maori with a tino rangatiratanga bent, like to think Hone reflects them.
Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, Hone maintains functioning networks across the electorate. He has the ability to tap a ready pool of activists and organisational capabilities. On the other hand, the Maori Party does not. Their branches, committees and so on have moved with Hone. Tim Selwyn picks up on this point:
It's mass dessertion and operational collapse here in Waiariki, so in the North it is difficult to imagine that they still have any functioning branches at all - although they will have many ambitious members who remain loyal for personal reasons who will form an electorate level committee, but without any depth.
Any branches the Maori Party retain will be cosmetic only. They will lack the numbers, connections and ultimately capabilities needed to make a serious impact.
Fifthly, the narrative is firmly set against the Maori Party. It is a well established line that the Maori Party has favoured the symbolic over the substantive, for instance the tino rangatiratanga flag and the UN declaration. The idea that the Maori Party has sold out is also firmly established as well, think the tax changes, the ETS, the MCA act and so on. The Party continues to frame itself as a party of the right, think the statement that the Maori Party can work with Don Brash and Te Ururoa Flavell’s defence of National re the AMI bailout. The attack lines are so simple and so easy. Whereas the attack lines that can be used against Harawira are personal and could be construed as an example of sour grapes. Ultimately, it is difficult to attack Harawira on his substantive record.
Finally, it has just been announced that Kelvin Davis will stand should the byelection happen. I imagine he will come a very respectable second. In a two way race I do not expect a Maori Party candidate to come anywhere near Harawira. After all, according to Hone at least, the Maori Party has approached eight candidates all of whom refused to stand (undoubtedly knowing that it is a lost cause). There can’t be many quality candidates left at that rate. However, with Kelvin Davis in the mix it is conceivable that he will come within striking distance, at worst he will come an honourable second. Labour, like Hone, enjoy functioning and effective networks across the electorate. Labour, unlike the Maori Party, is not in disarray and have a strong candidate in Kelvin. Kelvin can run a strong campaign across the electorate and stand on his record as a list MP for the North and a rising star in the Labour caucus. I think we can also be sure that Kelvin’s supporters will actually vote, with Hone’s supporters this is less certain. Byelection turnouts are normally dismal, couple that with the apathy that permeates the Maori electoral population and the fact that Hone is almost guaranteed to win, and it becomes reasonable to assume that Hone’s mainly poor and rural and semi-rural voters will not even bother to turn up.
To wrap up, Hone will win, Kelvin will come second and the Maori Party candidate will come third. This is assuming the byelection is held tomorrow though. I am not reckless enough to state that this will be the outcome come the election which is at least a month away. There could be any number of intervening events and major revelations.
Finally, I probably won’t be blogging for the rest of this week. I might write a few short posts, but probably nothing more.