Oct 7, 2012

John Tamihere: National MP for Waitakere

You read that right: John Tamihere is eyeing up the wrong party. Let’s list his positions:

First of all, let me be clear about a few things; I like John Tamihere, I think he's an outstanding communicator, a strong advocate for urban Maori and I’d welcome his return. However, he’s a poor fit for Labour 2012. Tamihere’s economic liberalism and social conservatism will sit awkwardly with Labour MPs and members. I struggle to see how Tamihere can reconcile his values and beliefs with Labour values and policies. As one example, in 2010 Tamihere rejected class politics writing that:

The large number of so-called working class people have now migrated to the middle class. As a consequence, describing your politics in a class way is no longer sustainable.

Well, this may have held true under Clinton’s America, Blair and Brown’s Britain and Clark’s New Zealand, but following the global economic downturn the left is tilting back towards class politics. Barack Obama, and to a greater extent Ed Miliband, are staking their re-election on class politics. Obama’s strategy in, for example, Ohio is aimed squarely at winning “blue collar workers” (what we call the working class). Miliband’s strategy is aimed at amplifying class tensions and painting the Conservatives as governing for their own class. If the economic situation in New Zealand worsens, the safe bet is that Labour will follow suit and pivot towards the working class. This would further marginalise Tamihere. However, as an identity politician Tamihere can find common ground with some of his colleagues. He sits well with Labour on Treaty and Maori issues. Having said that, that’s where it ends.

In any event, it’s all academic. Even if Tamihere were a lefty liberal Carmel Sepuloni has the Waitakere branch stitched up, Nanaia Mahuta has rejected his return (and I’m not surprised why) and David Shearer appears lukewarm. If Tamihere cannot win the support of Labour’s West Auckland branches he will need to win the support of the Maori caucus and David Shearer to ensure he receives a winnable list position. Unlikely.

Another route to return for Tamihere is Tamaki Makaurau. But, again, that’s a poor fit. Not because he won’t or can’t win, but because Willie Jackson will want that seat if he decides to stand. However, if Auckland becomes two separate Maori electorates then both could stand; Tamihere in the electorate that incorporates West Auckland and Jackson in the electorate that incorporates South Auckland. What, you ask, happens if West and South Auckland form part of the same electorate? Well, then one of either Tamihere or Jackson would have to stand down or it’s back to aiming for Waitakere or a list position. Whatever way you look at it, Tamihere’s route to return will be very, very rough.

UPDATE: Tamihere gave an excellent interview this morning. He rejected "Rogernomics", read neoliberlism, and spoke of a need to "regrow activism" and change New Zealand's macro economic settings. A clear tilt to the left and an attempt to reconcile his views with the views of the Labour Party.


  1. Sorry Morgan, you have got it wrong about Ed Miliband. His recent calls for a 'responsible capitalism' and everyone being equal in 'one nation' hardly indicate a politician championing working class interests.

    I can't see how you can criticise Tamihere for his neoliberal views then turn around and support politicians like Miliband and Obama who hold similar views.

    I'm not convinced by Tamihere's rejection of neoliberalsim given that he's supported such views for most of his political life. What about his views on the welfare state? Is he now saying he was wrong?

    Now he claims to be a champion of the working class after years of supporting policies that have devastated working class communities. Very convenient for an opportunistic ex-politician looking for a way back on to the parliamentary gravy train.

  2. Ed Miliband is trying to reorientate his party away from Tony Blair's New Labour. Philosophically, Labour is indeed couching itself in terms of class, but not in a way which might be instantly recognisable. The "One Nation" thing is politically meaningless sloganeering at this point.

  3. John Tamihere is hardly an "ex-politician looking for a way back on to the parliamentary gravy train."

    He has led what is probably Auckland's (if not New Zealand's) most successful social services provider, Waipareira Trust, in West Auckland for many years. Not only has he helped build an organisation which delivers a comprehensive range of social services to a broad range of groups in West Auckland (focusing on Maori but also open to other groups), but he has developed a strong asset base which will help ensure the continuity of the organisation as a financially sound entity.

    He has a proven track record that few politicians can match in this area.

    His remuneration for leading this organisation would also undoubtedly exceed anything he could earn as a politician.

    If he were looking for a 'gravy train' he would be much better placed looking to utilise his proven CEO skills in a market which is prepared to pay far in excess of anything a parliamentary salary could offer.



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