Sep 1, 2014

Who's ahead in Te Tai Hauāuru?

Chris McKenzie: the front runner in Te Tai Hauauru


It seems we have a new front runner in Te Tai Hauāuru. Via the Whanganui Chronicle

“The race for Te Tai Hauāuru is as close as predicted with the Māori Party's Chris McKenzie holding a slim three-point lead over Labour rival Adrian Rurawhe. 
A Māori TV/ Reid Research poll released on Wednesday had Mr McKenzie on 32 per cent with Mr Rurawhe on 29 per cent, the Greens' Jack McDonald on 11 per cent and the Mana Movement's Jordan Winiata on 10 per cent - impressive given that he had only been in the race for one week”.

I’m told this reflects the Māori Party’s internal polling. I’m also told it’s difficult to poll at the electorate level, doubly so in the Māori electorates. For that reason, we should treat the poll as indicative, not definitive. In any event the gap between the two front runners is within the margin of error (5%).

But on the strength of the Native Affairs debate last week, Chris McKenzie deserves to lead. I called the debate for Jack Tautokai McDonald – I’m hopelessly biased, granted – but Jack is only after the party vote. Thus, between those who are running for the electorate vote and the party vote, the winner was Chris McKenzie. He was in command of his policies and his facts. More so than Adrian Rurawhe and Jordan Winiata who, it should be noted, were both strong, but there were two professional politicians at the podium: Jack and Chris. As talented as Adrian and Jordan are, they were clearly a cut below the more experienced candidates. 

Not that the debate will change much, other than the respective campaign teams. This is where Adrian’s advantage lies. He has the stronger campaign team (like the formidable Gaylene Nepia). One shouldn’t underestimate the advantage of institutional support too. Drawing on the Labour Party’s campaign knowledge is an advantage, as is the brand bump from standing on the Labour ticket. If the trend continues, the Māori Party candidates will suffer from a brand slump ("a vote for the Māori Party is a vote for National" etc…).

But Chris has a secret weapon too: Tariana Turia. Her endorsement and support might be enough to hold the electorate. However, Ken Mair made an important point last year - "we aren’t looking for a candidate to fill Tariana’s shoes. We are looking for a candidate to carve a new path". I agree with that in one sense - the challenge is not to succeed Tariana the person (though I still think succession politics is relevant). Instead Chris must frame himself as the successor to Tariana’s legacy. That is, the successor to kaupapa Māori politics. 

So, in that light, who holds the advantage? Probably Adrian. As attractive as I find the philosophical and practical argument – that Chris is needed to protect kaupapa Māori politics – Adrian’s position is much stronger. Material needs trump and, on that one count, Labour is in a better policy position

Kiwibuild; KiwiAssure; Kiwisaver; NZ Power; the Economic Upgrade; extending ECE; restoring adult and community education; Māori trade training; the living wage in the public sector and $16.25 minimum wage; forestry and wood products policy; food in schools; subsidizing school donations and free tablets; bowel screening; free dental care; GP visits and prescriptions for pregnant women; healthy homes guarantee; manufacturing upgrade. The list really does go on.  

Labour's position is more comprehensive than the Māori Party. Few voters will know the details, but many will know intuitively that a Labour-led government is in a better position to meet Māori needs than the Māori Party within a National-led government. Now that's a very powerful narrative.