Apr 26, 2011

The Herald on Maori politics

An interesting piece from Claire Trevett in the Weekend Herald on the Maori Party and Hone Harawira:

Next week (the Maori Party) will meet to analyse that report (re the non-aggression pact). The agreement's demise is inevitable - not least because it is abundantly clear that while Harawira might not want the party to stand against him, he and his supporters certainly want to be able to stand against the Maori Party MPs.

As I have said, a Maori Party candidate in Te Tai Tokerau (TTT) will not dent Harawira’s support nor push the seat towards Labour. By my reckoning Hone’s base is comprised of around forty percent of TTT electors. In the wake of the expulsion saga I think he managed to solidify that base.

Hone enjoys a sixty two percent majority. I can think of no reason why that figure would decrease – even in a three way race. TTT is a Hone Harawira seat, not a Maori Party seat. Hone benefits from his record as an excellent electorate MP, he benefits from his reputation as an uncompromising Maori advocate and he benefits from his reputation as a genuine good bastard. Hone also maintains an excellent parliamentary record. He voted, for the most part, in principle, for example against the unfair tax switch and the inadequate MCA act, and he smashed tobacco companies and managed to convince a Tory government to increase taxes on tobacco products. Maori in TTT eat up Hone’s tino rangatiratanga rhetoric as well, for example “fiercely independent” iwi like Ngati Kahu. 

The Maori Party is expected to make its move on April 29 - the day before Harawira is to announce his party and new line-up. It will justify its decision by saying there was pressure from Maori Party supporters in Northland to give them someone to vote for.

So the Maori Party will announce whether they will stand a candidate against Harawira this Friday. This will be the Maori Party’s death sentence. Standing a candidate against Hone is utterly illogical. I do not know what the Maori Party expect to achieve. I do not believe that there is much pressure coming from the one or two remaining Maori Party supporters in TTT. I think the Maori Party is erecting a façade, and a pathetic one at that. This is not about placating one or two noisy Maori Party supporters in TTT, it is about destroying Hone as a means of self preservation. Maori will not and can not sustain two Maori Parties – something has to give. One has to be destroyed or one needs to take a broader approach i.e. look beyond Maori voters. Hone also represents a tangible and operating threat – he is pulling Maori Party supporters and will continue to do so (assuming ceteris paribus).

Claire continues:

In Te Tai Tokerau, that will undoubtedly result in a vote split between the Maori Party and Harawira.
The result could well be that Labour's candidate Kelvin Davis, who awaits this scenario with some glee, sweeps through the middle and takes the prize.

This is where she loses herself. Conventional wisdom would dictate that a third party candidate would push the seat towards the dissimilar candidate, read Kelvin Davis. This would perhaps be the case in a general electorate, but the Maori electorates are vastly different in terms of character. Different values are at play, different motivations, the issues are not generic, party ties are secondary, the differences between candidates are often cosmetic, the electorates encompass a huge area and, ultimately, voting is not a wholly rational exercise. For example some Maori will vote according to whakapapa. This wouldn’t occur in a general electorate. What I am trying to get at is that you cannot apply conventional understanding to what appears to be, on the surface at least, a simple political question. The Maori electorates are unpredictable and unusual.

If Davis wins the seat, Harawira does not. That may well be a sacrifice the Maori Party is willing to make - it is Harawira rather than Labour which is most corrosive to it.

A Harawira party without Harawira in Parliament is a far less dangerous prospect and if self-preservation means losing a limb, it may well be worth it.


It is hard to gauge support levels for Harawira, beyond his own possibly inflated claims and one Native Affairs-Baseline poll in March in which about one-third of Maori voters said they would support him. 

Anecdotally speaking, there is a shitload of support for Hone Harawira in Waiariki and in Wellington. A terribly unscientific facebook poll on tangatawhenua.com’s page asking who you would vote for had a Harawira party on 152 votes and the Maori Party on 39 votes.

Previous Maori polls even close to an election have not reflected the result. Harawira has strong support in his own electorate, but it is yet to be seen how much of this was because of his Maori Party backing. 

As aforementioned, Harawira’s support is not a result of the Maori Party - TTT is a Harawira seat not a Maori Party seat. 

But in the Maori seats, it is Labour voters who decide who wins. Last election Labour maintained its stranglehold on the party vote in the Maori seats, with about 50 per cent.

True, to a certain extent. Maori vote for Labour out of habit and as a strategic move. Maori do not vote Labour because they believe in the principles of social democracy, or approve of Labours record on Maori issues, or because they’re “Labour people”. The vast majority of Maori have no idea what the hell is going on and vote Labour because it is an ingrained action. Those Maori that do know what is going on vote Labour because a centre left government is in the best interests of Maori. A party vote for the Maori Party is a wasted vote. Maori can have the best of both worlds if they vote Maori on one level and Labour on the next.

Phil Goff's decision to rule out working with Harawira in a government may be enough to staunch any significant flow of the Labour/Maori Party split vote to Harawira.

Maori do not think like this. Whether or not Hone is in government is inconsequential.

(The Maori Party) is still polling at about its 2008 level. But this time, the stars are in alignment. This election year, Labour is struggling in the polls leaving its votes ripe for the picking by another party with left wing policies

Dissatisfied Labour voters will naturally move to Hone. The Maori Party has vacated the left and now occupies the centre right while Hone is moving left. It would take a pretty significant ideological shift for Labour voters to move towards the Maori Party. Why would Labour voters support a party that props up a National government?

Add to this the increased mana that comes with the ministerial positions held by Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia, and a significant lift in the party vote could be achieved if the Maori Party works for it.

This counts for nothing when that mana has not been utilised appropriately i.e. it was used to pass the MCA act among other transgressions. Mana comes with qualifications, it is not a virue in itself.

The party is not blind to this opportunity - but despite its term in government, it has not capitalised on its influence by strong fundraising among wealthier iwi and businesses, many of whom must be watching with some unease the prospect of Harawira unseating the Maori Party.

This is interesting. I would have assumed that financial support from some iwi would be a given. If iwi do not support the Maori Party after having received a number of sops, including the ETS, then they are incredibly ungrateful.

Names of potential candidates are emerging - including Mereana Pitman in Ikaroa-Rawhiti, where the battle could be wide open if Parekura Horomia does not stand again.

Former Maori Party stalwart Angeline Greensill is also expected to stand for Harawira in the Waikato-Tainui seat after missing Maori Party selection for the third year running.

Both Mereana Pitman and Angeline Greensill are strong candidates. I think both are members of Te Whaainga Wahine, an emerging organisation of wahine Maori and a Maori political force of the future, and both enjoy huge respect in their respective rohe. Angeline Greensill has come close in Hauraki-Waikato and is a strong opponent of the corrupt Tuku Morgan and Te Arataura. Mereana Pitman is from the protest generation and enjoys a national reputation. I do not think Greensill would win Hauraki Waikato, but Pitman has a chance if, as Claire says, Parekura steps down. Mereana Pitman is a Hone Harawira like figure, without the rough edges and the aggressive demeanour. She is respected as a Maori advocate, someone who has done the mahi on the ground, and is, by all accounts, an intelligent woman. She is untested as a politician though.

Overall, an excellent piece from Claire Trevett. I’m looking forward to Harawira’s launch this weekend. I will blog on the launch and any interesting aspects next week, hopefully.  

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