|Hon. Shane Jones MP
Now Parekura Horomia has been safely buried next to his mother at Kohimarama in Uawa, the political world looks to Ikaroa-Rāwhiti to see who the various political parties will select as their candidate for the by-election to fill the vacant seat. I'm of the view that it will be a fairly straightforward election for Labour if they aren't complacent and don't take Parekura's large margin for granted. I don't think they will. They know better than anyone the dynamic nature of Māori politics in recent decades.
In 1993 Tau Henare won Northern Māori and in doing so broke Labour's more than 50 year hold on the seats. This was the catalyst that saw New Zealand First sweep the five Māori seats in '96. Since then the Māori seats have been hotly contested and have seen some fairly significant swings of support between parties. But due to the unfortunate circumstances the nature of this election is unique. If Labour select a candidate who is believed to be able to carry on Parekura's local work and commitments then they should be pretty confident.
So assuming Labour do win comfortably they will be well placed in the Māori seats for the 2014 general election. But it's not just Parekura's position as Māngai for Te Tai Rāwhiti that will need to be filled. His role as the Labour Party's 'Chief' will now probably be taken up by Shane Jones. As Annette King said in the Parliamentary poroporoaki on Tuesday, Parekura passed his 'baton' of political position within Labour to Shane Jones. There will now be huge expectations on Jones, whose career has had its controversies, but I think he is perfectly placed to respond to the challenges of the current Māori political climate. As he showed in his Parliamentary tribute, which was by far the best of the day, Maori statesmanship has not perished with Parekura Horomia. Jones composed a mōteatea for his "closest friend in the political world". It was a beautiful and moving waiata that confirmed that Jones himself is "a link with the old world", as he described Parekura on the day he passed away. Jones was intensely trained and educated during his youth by the kaumatua of the North. He has oratorical brilliance, an exceptional intelligence and a sharp political mind, all of which will be necessary for Labour to try and fend off Green and Mana advances in the Māori seats. The Māori Party will probably continue to decline further with the departure of Tariana Turia.
So it's almost certain that David Shearer will now give Jones the Māori Affairs portfolio, the position of seniority in Labour's Māori caucus. Even if Shearer and Robertson decide instead on Nanaia Mahuta, who has the Parliamentary experience, whakapapa and talent to be able to do well in the role, Jones will still be seen as the 'Chief'. This will help him if he stands again in Tamaki Makaurau as it would be a contest between the two kaumatua of Parliament, himself and Dr Pita Sharples, and also an electoral battle between the current Minister and probable Shadow Minister for Māori Affairs. Jones has the political instinct and nous, but Sharples has better established links with the electorate. If I were to hazard a guess more than a year before the election, I would put my money on Jones. Sharples' declaration that he wants stay in Parliament until he is taken out in a box, won't go down well in what is actually quite a young, liberal electorate.
Jones' biggest challenge will be his perception within flaxroots communities. He needs to be able to convince low paid workers and community sector advocates that he is on their side, like Parekura did so excellently. He does not have the same working class background as Parekura Horomia, but his oratory and achievements do, and will continue to, endear him to many Māori and Pākehā alike. But if Labour really want to stop Green and Mana momentum in the Māori seats they will need to try and inspire the taiohi Māori vote. The 18-24 grouping is the largest in all seven of the Māori seats but many taiohi don't vote on election day. The Greens are relatively strongest in this area of the population and have a lot of potential in electorates like Tāmaki Makaurau, Te Tai Tonga and Te Tai Hauāuru, while Te Mana will probably continue to do well among young people in Te Tai Tokerau and Waiariki.
Jones does have the potential to inspire young voters as he in many ways epitomizes Māori aspiration. He has worked at the highest levels of Māori and Pākeha society in both the public and private sector, while always retaining a deep level of commitment to tikanga Māori, reo Māori and iwi Māori. Be sure that Jones will do his very best to hammer the Greens and Mana in the run up to the election. However, his recent call for the re-planting of native trees in the North as part of a strategy to support the reforestoration of marginal land, shows that he has a high level of political discernment, because he realises that his attacks on the Green Party maybe seen as hostility to strong environmental policy. He knows that Labour can't ignore environmental concerns in the Māori electorates.
With the passing of Parekura Horomia the political dynamic of the Māori seats has once again changed. Shane Jones looks set to play a central role in the lead up the 2014 election and beyond.
Shane Jones' mōteatea for Parekura via Claire Trevett at the NZ Herald: