|In the Te Tai Tokerau byelection many pundits predicted |
that Hone would lose the seat. They were wrong. They
misunderstood the logic of Maori politics.
In the latter end of last year I tried to avoid political writing. I wanted to focus on issues like race and ethnicity. But that'll change. It's an election year. Expect this blog to revert to horse-race politics more often. But before that, some scene setting for 2014.
When following Maori politics, remember that Maori maintain a separate polity. Although the Maori seats are part of Parliament, they've been integrated rather than assimilated. There's structural overlap with New Zealand politics - Maori politics is practised within New Zealand politics - but there's little intellectual overlap. The logic of Maori politics is different.
DPF captures the contrast well in his post on the electorate debate between Derek Fox and Parekura Horomia:
Derek (the) Fox is an accomplished politician and speaker. He got up and flayed Labour’s record, and Parekura’s record. It was a brutal devastating indictment of their time in office.
The response from Parekura was a real contrast. He spent probably most of his speech greeting the various audience members by name, citing their children, what schools they are at, what he had done for those schools or communities and just connected to the audience is a very real way. Finally he declared that not only were post of the audience part of his extended whanau, even Derek was his cousin and he loved his cousin even when he was trying to take the seat off him and that Derek was a good man.
Parekura was the winner of the debate, and of the election. It was a good reminder that politics is about more than just policies and politics, but can be very much about people at the individual level, not as abstract statistics.
Parekura understood that Maori politics is (literally, culturally and spiritually) relationship-based. That's not to say Maori politics can't think beyond its relationships, rather the practise of Maori politics is particularised.
The art of Maori politics reflects the importance of its intellectual foundations: ideas like rangatiratanga, mana whenua, mana moana, whakapapa, kanohi kitea, ahi kaa and so on. Each idea is relationship based - for example mana whenua is about the local relationship with the land - and each idea manifests itself differently from hapu to hapu, iwi to iwi and locality to locality. For that reason, it's difficult to universalise Maori politics.
Compare that against New Zealand politics. National politics is exercised on another level. It's party-led and state-focused. Maori politics isn't. All politics is issues-based - the economy, the environment and so on - but New Zealand politics doesn't come with the explicit overlay of particularised cultural concepts. The New Zealand political tendency (and the Western tendency, see colonisation and globalisation) is to universalise its values and experiences.
The difference is most obvious in Maori voting patterns. The Maori electorates vote overwhelmingly left-wing. Certainly at a rate that exceeds the proportion of those on the general role who vote left. The left has succeeded in integrating its values with Maori values. That's not to say that Maori values are left values, rather the left has done and continues to do a better job at articulating and exploiting common ground (particularising).
The art of relationship politics is more refined on the the left. Take Michael Joseph Savage and T.W Ratana. They recognised the power of relationship politics in Maori society and Labour enjoyed the benefits of that alliance for decades.
So when following Maori politics remember that when calling the horse race it's important to adopt the right frame of analysis. The logic of Maori politics is different. Parties and candidates that particularise and integrate with Maori concepts will be more successful.
Post script: this is something of a cultural analysis. A class analysis of Maori politics and Maori support for the left is also appropriate. I don't claim that there's an objective truth to the character of Maori politics. There are different perspectives and mine is one.