Jun 10, 2011

Labour and the byelection

Labour is running a good attack line against Hone Harawira at the moment. From Waatea News:

Labour MP Shane Jones says voters in Te Tai Tokerau could be set to punish Hone Harawira for jumping out of the Maori Party waka.

Mr Jones says Labour's Kelvin Davis is starting to pick up momentum, even though Mr Harawira's is clearly the most well-known name in the race.

“I do think quite a few people on the ground, those we have spoken to over the telephone or bumped into n the street, keep reminding us that the north don’t like waka jumpers. They made Tau Henare suffer. They made Matiu Rata suffer. I think that Hone and his supporters are now starting to realise that he could end up copping most of the blame for jumping out of the Maori Party waka,” he says.

Prima facie, Shane is correct. However, the circumstances with Rata and Henare were quite different. Neither of them enjoyed the same depth of support that Hone enjoys. Hone Harawira can tap a deep well of support. He has a huge number of volunteers on the ground, including experienced activists, and he retains a significant personal following. The political circumstances were different as well. From what I know Rata did not have an experienced team behind him and he was up against a powerful political machine, meaning the Labour Party, in an FPP environment. Maori voters and Maori political operators were, at the time, politically naïve as well. Rata was a part of the first wave of Maori political consciousness. They lacked the experience and the knowledge to succeed electorally. Now Tau Henare's situation is straightforward. He basically disgraced himself. He was never going to win, partly because of disloyalty and partly because he is just an idiot. Hone’s move from the Maori Party was more a result of well founded dissatisfaction with the direction the Maori Party was, or is, taking. Many Maori accept this. On the other hand, Henare defected from New Zealand First for personal and internal political reasons – not because he felt Maori were heading in the wrong direction.

Obviously, I do not think Hone’s “waka jumping” is going to have a tangible effect on the outcome of the byelection. Hone speaks well to his electorate. Kelvin does as well, for sure, but he speaks better to Pakeha liberals I have always thought. I have outlined before why I think Hone will win and, for the most part, I still stand by it. If the Maori Party was still in favour among Maori, especially Maori in the North, then Hone’s waka jumping may have come into play. But this is not the case. The Maori Party is, to be polite, disliked. Hone has won the debate too – the Maori Party are thoroughly framed as sell outs. If anything Hone is respected for leaving the Maori Party on a matter, or matters, of principle.

Having said the above, Hone has admitted he has had to explain to some voters why he left the Maori Party. Perhaps Hone’s motives and the situation itself is not as well understood as I think. But I think by and large most voters have a faint idea or at least are familiar with the narrative that the Maori Party sold Maori out with the MCA Act, the GST increase and so on.

From what I have gleaned Kelvin Davis is on something of a roll. The Labour Party is behind him and he is a great candidate. However, the fact remains that the North is Hone’s fortress. In the comments thread of this post at The Dim-Post Graeme Edgeler notes that:

At the 2008 election, there were 299 polling booths in Te Tai Tokerau. Kelvin Davis beat Hone Harawira in 19 of them, 15 of those by three votes or less. His biggest win over Hone was at Karetu School in Kawakawa by 14 votes. Hone won 89 booths by more than 20 votes, including a few by more than 100 votes.
The chances of Kelvin overturning this are slim at best. Another common argument that comes up re Kelvin’ ability to win is Labour’s ability to run get out the vote (GOTV) campaigns. Get out the vote campaigns are less effective in Maori electorates. Maori are disengaged and many Maori, especially in the far North and western side of the Tai Tokerau (not including West Auckland) do not have landlines. The spread of Maori electorates also makes it harder to out people on the streets. Unlike in general electorates it is impossible to have activists on every corner. Ultimately, getting Maori to the ballot booth will take far more than a few phone calls and pamphlets. Maori in the North will vote for the person they believe in. Not the party that called them on election day. Sure, Labour can focus on mobilising Labour voters only, but I tend to think the staunch Labour vote is shallow and Hone’s is deep, but, admittedly, apathetic.  

I also wrote in the thread at the time:

Labour resources are not extensive. They may have a few more activists willing to make phone calls etc on the day, a few senior campaigners may be willing to make the trip up and hand out flyers and direct strategy and one or two local Labour branches may help with resourcing e.g. deliveries, man-power etc. I do not think it will make much of difference. Harawira can leverage off of Unite and utilise an army of foot soldiers. His biggest weakness, in my opinion, is having no access to software where he can break down the electorate. Having said that he probably already knows the breakdown.

I stand by this. But I must note that the Party is pouring far, far more resources and time into the byelection than I would have thought. Certainly Labour realises that a win may give them the momentum they need in an election year. The momentum to reclaim the other Maori seats in fact. If Hone is out of the picture then Maori politics becomes a debate between the Maori Party and Labour. Although both parties lack credibility among Maori at the moment, Labour has stronger candidates in my opinion.

All credit to Kelvin though. He is focussing on the issues. However, my understanding is that Kelvin lacks the broad knowledge that Hone has on Maori issues. Kelvin tends to focus on education, his strong point, while neglecting issues like the foreshore and seabed where Labour is weak. From what I understand Hone has pounced on this issue and, given the way the Maori Party and Labour stuffed it up, is winning the issue hands down. Both Labour and the Maori Party have no credibility on the issue, but Hone does. The F&S is also one of the big issues among Maori at the moment. I cannot stress how much of a benefit it is to Hone to win the issue by default.  

I’m looking forward to the Te Tai Tokerau debate on Native Affairs this coming Monday. The debate is on Maori TV and runs from 8.30pm to 9.30pm. Hopefully good things come from the candidates and Maori TV offer some quality analysis.

So I guess I stand by my prediction that Hone will win, but Labour are making a good case. I’m looking forward to it.

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