Jan 6, 2014

Calling the horse race

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. 


  1. That's very helpful, thank you, Morgan.

    Re class analysis vs cutural analysis vs other analyses: when I was teaching political theory, and I got up to feminism and marxism, I always had to get past my students' preconceptions first. With Marx, I always started by pointing out that they needed to know about Marx - he's part of the canon, and knowing what Marx thought is like knowing what Aristotle or Hobbes or Wollstonecraft thought: it's just part of the basic knoweldge of political theory. But from there, I would talk about an image of a statue in a darkened room. If you shine a light on the stature from one angle, you see parts of it, and if you shine a light on it from another direction, you see other parts of it, and bit by bit, you develop a better understanding of the whole, even if no part is the "truth" of the matter. There are insights to be found in each angle, or different analysis, and each of them can be useful.

    If you have time, I'd be interested to read more about how the left has particularised values so that they integrate better with Maori values.

    1. That's very interesting. Thanks. I sometimes struggle to reconcile my default view - a cultural view - with my learned view - a class view. The former usually comes through strongest, but I have to keep reminding myself that they don't have to be in opposition. Your explanation helps.

      As for a post on the left and their success with Maori, it's something I've touched on here a few times. But a proper analysis will take a while. Hopefully I can find the time for it. It's an area of politics that's underexplored and little explained.

  2. Interesting piece, Morgan. I, also, struggle with the nature and practice of Maori politics, and suspect that it's deeply plural: politicS, as in many different branches with many different ends. But I still think that Maori voting for the state as their master via the Left vote is anathema to Maori who have better cause to understand the harm of dependence on the state than pakeha do.

    Deborah's post - hi Deborah, well done on succession selection - makes an important point. One needs a torch to shine a light on Marx because he is the politick of darkness. Surely Maori need to walk toward the light of a freedom based politics that would allow them to do anything they liked, so long as 'harm no one' is observed ;)

    Half in jest. Half not.

    1. Whoop: typo. That's 'well done on successful Labour candidate selection for Rangitīkei.'

    2. Thanks for commenting, Mark.

      There's an interesting view among some Maori thinkers that holds (to paraphrase and oversimplify) that tino rangatiratanga (Maori self-determination) must reject statism. The argument is that the colonial state directly subjugated Maori in the past and continues to indirectly subjugate Maori today.

      That's not my view - though I accept a lot of the arguments - but the view certainly exists and who knows, maybe it will push more Maori voters towards the libertarian right/anarchist left etc etc

  3. Kia ora Morgan. In light of your great analysis, would you say that a majority of the Māori voters would be wise to vote left (Mana or Greens)? Some are saying that Labour is the way to go and that Māori should just all vote Labour - but would it be safe to say that Green is the new Red? In terms of a new coalition govt. the three mentioned parties would be ideal (just my personal opinion), but how much lead way would Labour actually give to tino rangatiratanga in a meaningful (yet socially cohesive) way?
    Kia ora

    1. To be honest, I think neither the Parliamentary left nor right offers meaningful change. As much as I hope a Labour-Green government will implement structural change, part of me doubts that. Recent history suggests that aesthetic change will take place, but no more.

      The long term trend is clear: Maori are moving away from Labour. Having said that, I think 2014 will see an increase in Maori support for Labour, but that will constitute an exception and not the rule. Mana and the Maori Party are weak and the Greens haven't established themselves (yet). Labour has the momentum by default.



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