Apr 1, 2011

Pita Sharples vs. Shane Jones

Interesting results from Horizon

A new poll reveals Maori Party co-leader leader Pita Sharples huge majority in the Tamaki Makaurau electorate is being seriously eroded.

Horizon Research says his majority of 7,540 appears to have slipped to about 1,140.

I do have concerns in terms of the methodology Horizon uses, having said that I think their results are an accurate indication, albeit a slightly inflated indication, of Maori feeling in Tamaki Makaurau.

The Maori Party will be very worried. There was always going to be a reflex backlash as a result of the Hone Harawira expulsion and the passage of the MCA act. What is perhaps unexpected though is the extent of the backlash.

Pita appears to have destroyed his personal brand. The Maori candidate vote is a personality vote first and foremost. Party association is, in most cases, a secondary concern. Pita has always maintained a strong personal following, his connection to the Maori Party was of little consequence. However, it appears the situation has changed and Pita is now the focus of blame for the perceived mistakes the Maori Party has made. As a co-leader, this is to be expected.

In my opinion, the decisive moment came at Waitangi. Waitangi weekend was, for want of a better term, the ‘peak’ in the Hone Harawira saga. The Maori Party were copping criticism from the left, right and Maori. Pita personally attacked Hone and the defining moment came when Pita actively sought a replacement for Hone while he was still a member of the parliamentary team and the Maori Party itself. This exposed Pita as a double dealer and, this may be a strong description, a backstabber.     

This was an almost fatal blow. Pita was once regarded as a statesman, a skilled negotiator and a good natured go between for Maori and Pakeha. Yet at Waitangi he cultivated an image of a ruthless politician, a man poisoned by government.

The process re the MCA act reinforced the image of Pita the politician, not Pita the rangatira. Thousands of Maori submissions were ignored at the select committee stage, a hikoi to Parliament was casually disregarded and there was no acknowledgement that the MCA act is contrary to Maori aspirations. If the Horizon poll is indeed accurate, then Pita - perhaps unjustifiably - appears to have fielded a significant amount of the blame.

So who wins out of this? The answer’s easy… Shane Jones. According to the poll Pita enjoys 47.8% support while Shane follows at 42.1% support. This puts Shane within striking distance. Shane needs to convert roughly 1200 voters. This is easier said than done, but probable nonetheless.

I cannot honestly say I know which way it will swing. Shane and Pita, in terms of character, are fairly oppositional. Shane is confrontational and verbose while Pita is calm and is not prone to rhetorical tangents. Shane is not scandal free and neither is Pita. Both were held in high-esteem and have suffered a fall. But perhaps the defining factor will be Pita’s connections across the electorate. He is, and will remain, a respected kaumatua – in spite of his political failures. He has been involved with urban Maori for decades, with the local tangata whenua for decades, as well as every other Maori organisation in Auckland that you can think of. Shane does not enjoy such extensive contacts. He enjoys Nga Puhi whakapapa, but will that be enough to pull him through? Probably not. If forced to pick a winner, I say Pita. I will qualify that though and say that it could really go either way. Nothing is certain and anything can happen between now and the election.

Shane needs to ensure his campaign infrastructure is in place. He needs to be able to pick and date and run hard from then. The narrative also needs to be formed now and consistently hammered. If Shane can cultivate the perception that Pita is compromised, then the election is his to win. If he fails to devastate Pita’s brand, he has no show.

I am torn a little here. I do not want to see the Maori Party prop up a second term National government. But I do not want to see them destroyed. I think the party deserves a chance to reform. Ultimately though, I think preventing a second term National government is more important than any feeling towards the Maori Party. Movements can be rebuilt, but it is much harder to rebuild lives.   

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