Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On the Te Tai Tokerau result

June 27th, 2011

Illustration by Tim Denee - On the Te Tai Tokerau result: Hone Harawira and the Mana Party vs Labour and the Maori Party
Illustration by Tim Denee –

In the wake of his victory in the Te Tai Tokerau by-election, Hone Harawira has run strategic rings around the Maori Party by offering an ostensible olive branch to them to work together for the good of Maori, and having that offer soundly rejected by Pita Sharples on the basis of past grievances. It was precisely the right note for Harawira – talking no longer as just an MP, but as a party leader – while Sharples has seemed flat footed and petulant in defeat.

Then again, it will be hard for someone like Sharples – who has been used to treating Harawira as a rebellious subordinate – to realise that the game has now changed. This by-election was always going to be hard for the Maori Party. Eventually, it did the best it could – it chose a poor candidate who gave Labour’s Kelvin Davis the best chance of either removing Harawira from contention entirely in November or (at the very least) of blunting his momentum in the other Maori electorates. On both counts, its by-election strategy essentially failed.

In fact, the emergence of the Mana Party leaves the Maori Party facing a genuine dilemma. Does it try and trumpet its alleged achievements over the past three years – and thus underline its closeness to National – or does it try and tack leftwards and re-position itself as the steadfast defender of Maori interests against the bulk of the government’s programme? It is a difficult decision. If the Maori Party has found it hard to wear some of the government’s programme in this first term (while retaining the trust of its constituents) the second term agenda looks much, much worse. Does Pita Sharples really want to go down in history as the Peter Dunne of Maoridom?

If nothing else, the result in Te Tai Tokerau has totally vindicated the decision to hold the by-election. Bluster as he may, John Key cannot seriously argue that this all just a stunt, and nothing really has changed. Harawira’s mandate has been established, and the margin seems about right. The 6,000 majority in 2008 was always misleading, being the freak result of (a) the tide going out on nine years of a Labour government, and (b) the Maori electorate’s early, heady romance with the Maori Party. Take out the 1,000 core faithful who still voted for the abysmal Maori Party candidate and the return of Labour’s vote to more like its genuine level, and Harawira’s margin of victory is still within reasonable proximity of the circa 1500- 2000 figure that he might have hoped for.

Labour too, will undoubtedly feel that this result shows it is on the comeback trail in the Maori electorates. There is also the genuine prospect of the Mana Party splitting the Mari Party vote elsewhere around the country in November and enabling Labour to come through the middle. For a Labour Party that has been on starvation rations for good news for most of this year, such crumbs of comfort will be gratefully accepted.

For the Maori Party, the news is all bad. What this result suggests is that the Maori electorate is far more comfortable with the centre left – whether that be in the shape of the Mana Party or the Labour Party – than it is with the centre right. Try as it might, the Maori Party is still being seen as a collaborator with the government rather than as a successful champion of Maori interests. At some time between now and November, it will probably become necessary for the Maori Party to announce that it is no longer prepared to sit around the Cabinet table next time, and to be a willing accomplice in welfare reform policies and an asset sales programme.

At the very least, the Te Tai Tokerau by election underlines the volatility of the Maori electorate. Since the mid 1990s, Maori hopes and expectations have attached themselves in relatively quick succession to New Zealand First, Labour, the Maori Party and now the Mana Party. It is as if each political vehicle is seen as a raiding party on government – rather than as a viable, long term player in the political process than can be trusted to deliver results over time.

Such hopes – quickly bestowed and quickly disappointed – could be taken as a sign of just how shallow the embedding has been of the Treaty partnership in the political process. Harawira will be wanting to make something more substantial out of the Mana Party – and the next sign of how he plans to position his party will come when Mana releases its party list. What sort of balance does he intend to strike in the rankings of the Maori and pakeha candidates on that list?

So far – when it comes to the things that matter – Harawira has defied expectations and not put a foot wrong. Right now, it is Sharples who seems to be more like the intemperate novice.


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    1. 9 Responses to “On the Te Tai Tokerau result”

    2. By Tiger Mountain on Jun 27, 2011 | Reply

      The Maori Party has conclusively demonstrated that their brand of ethnic identity politics is a hard act in a class based society. The votes Solomon Tipene did get on a brief reading of booth by booth counts were likely 50% iwi sub group/family/regional based rather than for MP necessarily.

      National gets away with its punative upward wealth transfer via a veneer of aspirationalism, Labour’s class collaboration by employing middle class welfare while ‘sitting on’ the less deserving. Though their $15 min wage policy is a commendable reform.

      Mana-a hybrid maori led, potentially joint working class/maori focused party may well be in with a chance in future by the virtue of NOT claiming to represent everyone.

    3. By Joe Blow on Jun 27, 2011 | Reply

      I don’t think we should get caught up in making too many assumptions about the national situation through the prism of what has happened in the microcosm of the Te Tai Tokerau byelection. These are constituency seats with complex local loyalties after all.

      The Mana Party looks set to be a far left party vote party with its one seat getting its other MP(s) into Parliament. The Maori Party, a party that represents Maori, is hardly doomed to extinction.

      And Harawira’s snide remarks were hardly an olive branch offered to the Maori Party. Sharples saw straight through that and I’m surprised you didn’t Gordon.

      I think that the Maori Party saved Hone’s butt as if they hadn’t run a candidate the voters that really hate Hone’s guts would have only had one choice (i.e. Labour). Come November they may just vote Labour to get rid of him… And Hone grumbling about the Maori Party running a candidate against him seems rather trite. I prefer free elections to backroom deals about whom should run against whom. I’m glad Sharples saw through the so called olive branch.

      It makes for an interesting election and I think the byelection was worth the millions it cost just for the high drama. Thanks Hone! Tax dollars well spent! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I saw you sweating it out a bit there… your tough guy act don’t fool me bro.

    4. By Anna on Jun 28, 2011 | Reply

      @ Joe Blow – seriously? The MP stuck a candidate up to save face and all but encouraged everyone to vote for Kelvin. The Maori Party need Mana at the moment a lot more than Mana needs the Maori Party. If Mana chooses to stand candidates in all the Maori electorate seats, they will gift wins to Labour. I’m picking Tariana will retain her seat. All the others are now up for grabs.

    5. By Elyse on Jun 28, 2011 | Reply

      For what it’s worth, I’m a pakeha middle class woman and I’ll be voting for the Mana Party. Hawawira and Mana (great choice of name) are such a breath of fresh air for New Zealand, and, I suspect, the way of the future.
      I’m so glad the people of Te Tai Tokerau did not cave in to the blatant attempts to marginalize Harawira in the NZ Herald and other media.

    6. By Joe Blow on Jun 28, 2011 | Reply

      @ Anna

      Well I don’t think they put up a candidate to actually save Hone’s butt, but the effect of putting up a candidate, in hindsight, may have actually saved him. Bring on the free elections and Mana Party candidates in each Maori electorate! Tell me Anna, if the Maori Party need Hone so much whay isn’t Sharples playing ball?

      @ Elyse

      It doesn’t surprise me that you are voting for the Mana Party as the party is shaping up to look more like the Alliance than the Mana Motuhake Party. It will be interesting to see how a party that claims to stand for multi ethnic interests, will deal with its very ethnically orientated leader… To turn Tiger Mountain’s words on their head: “ethnic identity politics is a hard act in a multi ethnic party”.

    7. By Elyse on Jun 29, 2011 | Reply

      @Joe Blow
      You sound racist. I don’t see anything wrong with Harawira being “ethnically orientated” as you put it. Have not pakeha governments been ethnically oriented towards their own?
      I admire Harawira’s courage. He had everything to lose by sticking to his principles. Not many politicians would do that.

    8. By Joe Blow on Jun 29, 2011 | Reply

      @ Elyse

      Hold on now girl! The only one who has ever sounded racist around here is Hone Harawira! I’m just pointing out that his politics, like those of his ex-colleagues in the Maori Party, have been and are a vehicle for bettering Maori interests. However, this is in conflict with what the Mana Party is shaping up to be. There will always be a conflict between those of us on the left that think that helping the people on the bottom no matter what ethnicity they are is all that is necessary and those that think that that help needs to be ethnically sensitve to the different ethnic needs of those that are helped. To be transparent my views aline with the second camp. I think that those two ideologies are set to collide in the Mana Party, which incidentally is a party that doesn’t really know what or who it stands for yet…

      So lets get this straight, the Mana Party is led by a representative of a Maori constituency, which is about as ethnically specific and local as you can get, but its supposed to help a whole bunch of far left activists piggy back into government because they couldn’t win 5% of the party vote or a seat themselves? It sounds like Frankenstien to me…

    9. By Piri on Jul 7, 2011 | Reply

      @Joe Blow

      Turns out that even with all of the Maori Party’s votes going to Kelvin Davis, Labour would still have lost. It was really Hone vs Labour, National, Maori Party, Big Business and the MSM. Labour threw huge resources into the campaign including at least 15 MPs. Will they be able to do this again (allocate much of their resources to one electorate) in the General Elections? I doubt it.

    10. By Joe Blow on Jul 9, 2011 | Reply

      @ Piri

      The final result including the special votes for the Te Tai Tokerau byelection was Mana 6,065, Labour 4948 and Maori 1087. If the Maori Party votes were transferred to Labour, Labour would have 6035, which is just 30 votes off Mana. No wonder Hone is so desperate to sell out and make a backroom deal with the Maori Party. Looks like its Hone and the Maori Party vs Labour again… what a waste of time!

      I think Hone is only happy if the fuss in the papers is about Hone… this isn’t about big business and National, this is about BIG MAN HONEISM! WAKE UP!

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