Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Labour's Opportunity, Harawira's Choice

Standing on solid ground? The Dunedin South MP, Clare Curran's, assessment of the way the Hone Harawira controversy is playing out among Labour supporters is almost certainly more accurate than those of her critics on the Red Alert blog. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Phil Goff and the Labour Party have made considerable gains on the back of Hone's "White Mother****ers".

CLARE CURRAN at Red Alert has accused Matt McCarten of turning his Herald on Sunday column into an apology for Hone Harawira’s behaviour. Then, apparently not content with poking a stick at one of the most formidable beasts on the political block, she wagged an equally disapproving finger at Harawira’s mates, Willie Jackson and John Tamihere. (All three men have offered their support and counsel to Harawira over the past week.)

Interestingly, the initial reaction from Red Alert’s readers to Clare’s posting was negative. The first batch of comments found little to fault in McCarten’s analysis, and sharply criticised the Dunedin South MP for echoing Phil Goff’s "Brashesque" attacks on Harawira.

I am, however, very doubtful whether these comments fairly reflect most Labour voters’ response to Phil Goff’s comments. Indeed, I suspect the overwhelming majority of Labour’s constituency has joined the rest of Pakeha New Zealand in hailing Goff as the only parliamentary leader willing to condemn Harawira’s behaviour unequivocally.

Clare’s call on this issue is almost certainly more in tune with public opinion than her critics’.

Goff, himself, is clearly determined to use Harawira’s gaffes as an excuse for finally cutting the Labour Party adrift from the whole Maori Sovereignty movement – and hence the Maori Party. He is betting that most of the emerging Maori middle-class is in the process of doing the same, and that, in the not-too-distant future, Maori professionals will start drifting back to Labour.

Given that the overwhelming majority of the Maori middle-class derive their incomes from the State (rather than the conservative iwi corporates currently backing the Maori Party) my instinct is that Goff is making a pretty safe bet.

But that still leaves the Maori working-class.

Who is best-placed to represent these forgotten New Zealanders? That’s the question Maori leaders like McCarten, Jackson and Tamihere are asking. It’s also the issue which the Maori Party leadership is pig-headedly refusing to address. Why? Because the extraordinarily inconvenient answer is – Hone Harawira.

It's the Maori Party’s failure to acknowledge this elephant in the room – the issue of class – that explains the rather bemused tone of McCarten’s HoS commentary. It’s as if he can’t quite believe Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples are really as silly as they seem.

He also knows that a party calling itself the Maori Party simply cannot afford to shrug off the people of the Tai Tokerau. Not only does the electorate contain between a quarter and a third of all Maori Party members, but, as the largest Maori tribe, Ngapuhi's participation in the Maori Party is essential.

No one can credibly claim to speak for Maori without at least one of the three great tribes: Ngapuhi, Tainui and Ngati Porou standing behind them. With Labour still holding Ikaroa-Rawhiti and Hauraki-Waikato, it simply beggars belief that the Maori Party would seriously contemplate casting aside Te Tai Tokerau.

It is similarly impossible for a Maori Party to ignore the fact that the overwhelming majority of the people they claim to represent do not control large iwi corporations and are a very long way from being middle-class. Most of them cannot speak te reo and would feel as ill at ease on the marae as most Pakeha. If it refuses to speak for – and act for – these people, then the Maori Party risks being branded a political fraud.

Harawira knows this – it’s what fuels his anger and frustration. He also knows that every day the Maori Party remains in cahoots with the National Party its support among working-class Maori – whose numbers propelled the Maori Party into Parliament – is steadily eroding away.

But, Harawira is no friend of the Labour Party. He remembers too well the devastation Rogernomics wreaked upon his people, and how readily Helen Clark embraced the spirit of Orewa in 2004. He will not go that way.

But there’s another way he could go – and McCarten, Jackson and Tamihere know it. That’s why McCarten wrote his HoS column the way he did. Screaming out between the lines of his text was a blunt warning to Turia and Sharples – not to mention Goff and Curran:

"If you don’t want the young, angry, Maori and Pasifika working-class, there’s at least one man in Parliament who will take it off your hands. Expel him at your peril."

To which Harawira could reasonably add, in the immortal words of that white mother****er, Clint Eastwood:

"Go ahead, make my day." 


aj said...

'Last cab off the rank'

Very insightful.

Shona said...

Finally a commentator who sees this debacle for what it is. As a pakeha who lived in Ngapuhi country for 2 decades I wondered how long it would take for them to realize how the Maori Party really regards them. I am enjoying this.

Anonymous said...

The trouble is that Hone Hawawira's published words have made him unfit to be in the house, where after all one must be the LOYAL opposition.

Nick said...

Its been obvious to me for a long time that the settlement of Treaty Claims whilst absolutely necessary raises the thorny issue of to whom. It has long been my contention that creation of a Maori aristocracy / plutocracy would be the likely outcome should the settlement of claims not have any mechanism attached to distribute to rank and file. Urban people of Maori descent with no tribal links, and hapu were always going to miss out to iwi. Turiana should look out, Harawira will become the spirit of her age.