Saviour of The Left?: If Hone Harawira secures control of the Maori Party, the National Party's policy intentions - hitherto blurred by its confusing relationship with the Maori Party - will snap into much sharper ideological focus. NOTE TO READERS: This essay was written prior to the Maori Party caucus laying its complaint against Mr Harawira. Push has indeed come to shove.
HONE HARAWIRA is fast becoming the "Great Brown Hope" of the New Zealand Left. And you don’t have to be a political scientist to see why. His extraordinary column in last Sunday’s Sunday Star-Times makes it brutally clear that the relationship between the National-led Government and the Maori Party will not survive the current parliamentary term.
Unless the National Party is able to do what hasn’t been done since 1951, and secure a majority of the votes cast, the Maori Party’s imminent left-turn places the Government’s re-election chances entirely in the hands of Act – and the Epsom voters. For his Government to endure, the Prime Minister, John Key, not only needs Act’s leader, Rodney Hide, to carry the Epsom seat – but also a fat swag of Act MPs on his coat-tails.
Forcing National into the arms of Act is clearly Mr Harawira’s key strategic objective. The Maori Party’s most important contribution to National (as Mr Harawira himself wryly admits) has been its ability to blur the sharper edges of the Right’s ideological agenda. Without the Maori Party, that agenda will snap into sharp focus. It will then be much harder for Mr Key to persuade voters they have nothing to fear from a second term National-led Government.
But what about the Maori Party’s leaders – Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples? Have they no say in this?
The short answer is: "No."
Since the Maori Party’s Hui a Tau (annual general meeting) at Hastings’ Omahu Marae last October, it has been very clear that the party’s rank-and-file are looking to Mr Harawira for the leadership Ms Turia and Mr Sharples have failed to deliver. His frank exposition of the Maori Party’s shortcomings in the Sunday Star-Times is proof of this. No politician would castigate his leaders in the way Mr Harawira has done unless he’s pretty sure that, should push comes to shove, a radicalised and rebellious majority will be shoving his way.
Besides, the political logic of abandoning National for an alternative, Centre-Left, coalition is as clear to Ms Turia and Mr Sharples as it is to Mr Harawira. National’s own rank-and-file are telling their MPs that the Marine & Coastal Areas Bill is a ‘beach too far’ for many Centre-Right voters to accept. The Maori Party membership also understands that National’s stock of symbolic gestures is fast running out.
Time to steer the waka in a new direction.
You would be quite mistaken, however, to believe that Mr Harawira is paddling towards Labour. His most compatible Pakeha allies (as his own daughter bluntly reminded him by announcing her intention to vote for them) are the Greens.
The Maori Party stands to win many more concessions from the Labour Party by negotiating alongside the Greens, as a bloc, than it does by negotiating separately. Between them, the two parties will control a minimum of 11 seats. Neither Labour, nor National, will be able to form a government without them.
The only complicating factors in Mr Harawira’s strategic calculations are Winston Peters and NZ First. If the electorate suspects a Green/Maori Party bloc would demand too much from Labour, it may decide to give NZ First sufficient support to provide Phil Goff with the same either/or, both/and options which the Act/Maori Party combination gave Mr Key in 2008.
This intriguing prospect supplies all the parties of the Centre-Left with a powerful incentive to mobilise the maximum number of eligible voters. And, as National learned to its cost in 2005: the higher the turnout, the lower the chances of a Centre-Right victory.
It will be interesting to observe how many of these considerations Mr Harawira explores in his forthcoming columns in the Sunday Star-Times. My suspicion is that these verbal sallies will reflect much of the strategic and tactical virtuosity displayed by his illustrious Ngapuhi forebears. There is more than a hint in Mr Harawira of that other great ‘Hone’ of the North – the warrior, Hone Heke.
No wonder the Left love him.
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star on Friday, 21 January 2011.