Hone Harawira appears set to announce the formation of a new party at the end of the month. The Mana Party should be announced following a final hui on April 30. Readers will know I have been predicting and advocating a broad left wing party as opposed to an alternative Maori party. However, it appears Hone will deliver the latter.
As you can probably imagine, I think this is a strategic mistake. I will qualify that statement by saying good on Hone. Maori want a new kaupapa Maori party and he is delivering one. In this post I want to quote, at length, my thoughts on the issue from March 12:
Hone has announced that any new party he forms will be Maori focussed. I do not think this necessarily precludes the possibility that the party will be broadly left wing. Certainly tino rangatiratanga finds a natural ally in the left - the recognition of indigenous rights is almost the exclusive domain of the left in fact. Hone appreciates this. In this post I want to discuss why Hone Harawira must launch a broad left wing party rather than a single issue alternative Maori party.
If Hone were to form an alternative Maori party he must, in the interest of electoral success, destroy the current Maori Party. The numbers required to sustain both a left wing Maori party and a right wing Maori party do not exist. The Party vote for the current Maori Party is already exceedingly low and it is fair to assume that there is little potential to tap new and existing, yet inactive, voters. The Green Maori vote is also exceedingly low. The Labour Maori vote remains significant yet there are dangers in attempting to bite a piece off of the Labour Party. For the moment, Hone needs the Labour Party in terms of support in the House and around Parliament. Any new party Hone forms will also be ideologically tied to Labour. Now if Hone were to pursue the Labour Maori vote Labour could respond in kind and attempt to stymie Hone. Erect barriers in an attempt to protect their voter base. For example Labour, if threatened, could silence Hone in the House by refusing to offer him anymore speaking slots. Cut off his oxygen supply essentially. Hones best options is to target the politically inactive. The constituency exists and I firmly believe Hone, in cohort with Matt McCarten, is, or are, the people to finally reach out to that untapped market often called the underclass.
Most people can list three or four political values and issues that mean a lot to them. The reality is that most people will not list flags on bridges, international treaties and customary rights near the top. The cost of living, wages and welfare will come out near the top of most lists, therefore it is crucial that Hone take a broader view. The current Maori Party continues to collect a considerable amount of criticism for the party’s perceived focus on symbolic wins as opposed to substantive wins. This should signal to Hone that a focus on Maori values such as the recognition of some rights is not enough to placate Maori. At the end of the day Maori, like everyone else, want to enjoy a higher standard of living, job security etc. And of course the underclass, I loathe the connotations of that word but it is the common designation we all understand, is not exclusively Maori. The underclass consists of the working poor, Pakeha beneficiaries and in many cases Pakeha pensioners. With this in mind it becomes clear that the pitch must be much wider. Although any new party Hone launches will not rely on the party vote, for the time being that is, if Hone wants to drag any new MP’s in with him he must ensure his messages, policies etc resonate with a wide audience.
The political marketplace is already crammed and, as one commentator put it, an alternative Maori party will occupy a niche within a niche.
Most of this, in my mind at least, still holds true. I want to add a few more comments though.
Firstly, the Maori vote is volatile in one respect and solidified in another respect. What I mean by this is that on a candidate level the Maori vote tends to jump around while on a party level the vote is largely fixed with Labour. In terms of the party vote I think this comes down to habit – it’s a generational thing. Hone will struggle to change that. The Maori Party failed to convert a majority of Maori. Mana Motuhake also failed and so did the Greens.
Secondly, Hone needs a moderating force. In my opinion he does whatever the last person told him to do. People like Annette Sykes will hardly exercise control over Hone’s more extreme tendencies. They will only reinforce what he believes.
I wish Hone success. I agree with much of what he says and does. But not enough people share my outlook on life. Not enough to make him a significant force.