Tuesday 28 June 2011

The Fish Of Maui Lashes Its Tail

Te Ika A Maui: The Fish of Maui is the Maori name for the North Island of New Zealand - the shape of which does indeed resemble a stingray. The stingray's tail - known today as Northland - encompasses the Maori electroate of Te Tai Tokerau. It was here, on Saturday, 25 June 2011, that Hone Harawira secured the new Mana Party's first parliamentary seat. With a lash of the Fish's tail, the voters of Te Tai Tokerau re-set the net of New Zealand politics.

SOMETHING VERY IMPORTANT happened on Saturday night. For the first time in nearly a century, a revolutionary was elected to the New Zealand parliament. Hone Harawira’s politics, and the politics of those likely to enter Parliament alongside him in November, are not the politics of reform. The aims and objectives of Mr Harawira, and the Mana Party, are revolutionary in nature. 

What does that mean? Very simply it means that the changes being sought by the Mana Party cannot be accommodated within the present social, economic and political arrangements of New Zealand society.  

To give effect to Mana’s policies, those who currently enjoy the most privileged positions in New Zealand society will have to surrender a significant measure of their wealth and status. 

Conventional notions about the nature of, and the rights pertaining to, private property will have to change. 

And, if we are to accord full recognition to the rights of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori people – a key Mana Party demand – then the meaning of democracy itself will need to be re-examined. 

Most New Zealanders will find the above propositions extremely challenging, and very likely upwards of 95 percent of the electorate will vote for something other than the Mana Party on November 26th. 

But, as the Act Party has demonstrated, it isn’t necessary for a political party to exceed the 5 percent Party Vote threshold to win parliamentary representation. Act received just 3.65 percent of the Party Vote in 2008, but because Rodney Hide was elected to represent Epsom (New Zealand’s wealthiest electorate) he was entitled to take four other MPs with him into the House of Representatives. Dr Don Brash will be hoping that John Banks performs the same political alchemy for Act in five months’ time. 

But, what’s sauce for the reactionary Act goose must, in all fairness, be sauce for the revolutionary Mana gander. If Mr Harawira is able to hold Te Tai Tokerau (New Zealand's poorest electorate) in November, and if the Mana Party proves equal to the task of attracting 3.65 percent of the Party Vote, they may prove as pivotal to the process of forming a governing coalition as the Act Party in 2008. 

Joining Mr Harawira in Parliament, we may see such well-known champions of the Maori nationalist and socialist causes as Annette Sykes, John Minto and Matt McCarten. Not since the election of such classical socialist leaders as Paddy Webb (1913) and Harry Holland (1918) will the House of Representatives have reverberated to so much revolutionary rhetoric. 

Phil Goff and his Labour Party colleagues should perhaps reflect on these historical precedents before launching any further attacks upon Mr Harawira and his party. As once they were, so Mana is now: a fledgling movement, overshadowed by a much larger political organisation. 

Back in 1913 that party was the Liberal Party – which had dominated centre-left politics in New Zealand since 1890. Within 20 years of its formation, however, Labour – the new kid on the block – had become the government. 

Of course, it did not do that by terrifying the electorate. Labour’s revolutionary reputation was steadily reduced as what were once perceived as radical left-wing ideas became generally accepted as fair and reasonable solutions to the nation’s problems. 

This is the path that Mr Harawira and the Mana Party must follow: the path of winning over the electorate to their social, economic, cultural and constitutional programme. 

And this may not be as difficult as many commentators seem to think. 

After all, Maoridom is blessed with a plethora of media outlets, including its own, fully-fledged television network and a multitude of independent radio stations. Winning Maori hearts and minds poses no insuperable difficulties to Mana. 

Winning the support of the Pakeha electorate will be a much harder task. It will require an unprecedented measure of ideological sophistication to persuade the non-Maori voter that the new, radically bi-cultural New Zealand, which Mana means to construct, has as much to offer the ordinary Pakeha wage- and salary-earner as it does the young unemployed Maori of Te Tai Tokerau. 

Like T.W. Ratana, Mr Harawira must convince disadvantaged and aggrieved Maori that it is only in alliance with equally marginalised and exploited Pakeha workers that the “children of the poor” – brown and white – can aspire to a better future. 

Central to the success of this alliance will be a cultural revolution in which the frankly supremacist assumptions of the old settler state give way before a recognition that New Zealand is a Pacific nation: a place in which the most generous and creative impulses of Maori and European culture may be harnessed to produce something new and exciting on the world stage. 

That the impetus for this revolution comes from the North is entirely fitting. 

When the fish of Maui lashes its tail, how can Aotearoa fail to move forward? 

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 28 June 2011.


Adze said...

Cute metaphor, but I'm not sure that creating an constitutional ethnic oligarchy would be a panacea for economic woes in the far north, and I'm not sure what defensible principles would inform such a move anyway.

Anonymous said...

Chris, where can one get some of whatever heavy stuff you are currently on?
GST off power bills, minor tax reforms and compulsory Te Reo is a fair few guillotines short of a revolution.

ani nil carborundum said...

Of course the 'tale of the fish" is a colonial construct requiring Western map making conventions to make any sense.
Although I would love my country to be governed in the interests of the poor and underprivileged, I could not support a party lead by a street bully populist and racist as Harawira.
Sadly this posturing grandfather in Johnny Cash black is just too supportive of gangsters, drug peddlers and "martial arts clubs."
If he is leading a political change it will have more in common with Germany in the 1930's than the New Zealand Labour movement based on organising workers and pacifism.

Robert Winter said...

"Joining Mr Harawira in Parliament, we may see such well-known champions of the Maori nationalist and socialist causes as Annette Sykes, John Minto and Matt McCarten. Not since the election of such classical socialist leaders as Paddy Webb (1913) and Harry Holland (1918) will the House of Representatives have reverberated to so much revolutionary rhetoric."

Chris: perhaps a conflation of epochs and politics,again. You must see the contradictions in this configuration, and, indeed when you write about "an unprecedented measure of ideological sophistication", it becomes clear that you do. It is not sophistication that would be required, but the potential submersion of socialist ideals to nationalism, a bitter debate as we've seen in Ireland, South Africa and on and on for generations. I realise that we differ on this, but it is a debate that must be had.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Anonymous@10:50AM

Anonymous, it's the most powerful drug available: the drug that has toppled tyrannies and raised up democracies; the drug that freed slaves, educated children, healed the sick, housed the homeless, built trade unions and constructed the welfare state.

It's called ... HOPE

Anonymous said...

Hone can be seen as an arrogant chap, but with people such as A.Sykes, J.Minto,M.Mcarty etc surrounding him much of the arroganc will be curbed for sure.This country has a golden oppotunity Thru Te Mana to stand up in the world and be a leading example to say to the rich and wealthy,"hey stop riding on the backs of others and share a little love".The world is sufferring because the super rich are not kept in check!People power may finally come to a realization and maybe we might have a fairer nation...cmon people give Te Mana that chanc...and if they blow it, then hang em out to dry!!

leftydave said...

the first hurdle for Te Mana has been jumped...

now it will be interesting to see how 'democratic' will the party be...

who will pick the 'leadership'?

who will make the policy?

will it be a party driven from the bottom or the top?

in the last 30 years we have seen the rise (and fall) of various 'great leader' parties..

what we need now is for Te Mana's supporters to make it a party of 'action'...

a party that can challenge the bourgeois!

a party that can challenge nz's political elite...

many years of struggle ahead...

Victor said...


I think your comparison between the potential influence of Mana and that of Act is highly misleading.

Act was originally formed by an extremely high profile former finance minster, to carry on the economic agenda he had championed whilst in office.

The broad tendency of its policies was accepted, at that time, by both major parties and remains the overall direction (however watered-down)of the current government.

There are many supporters of that government (including those in boardrooms and the media) who would like to see it go much further and there are, no doubt, some within that government who would not be adverse to it being pushed in a more extreme direction.

Indian Communists used to compare themselves to the mahout sitting on the shoulders of the elephant of Congress, steering it in a more left-wing direction. That is the goal to which Act aspires with National. Therein lies its significance, and not in its numbers.

There may be much that is elephant-like about Labour but it's a stubborn beast and simply isn't going to go in any direction in which Mana might wish to steer it.

Nor is there any reason to think Labour would respond to attempts at steerage from a group of people with whom it shares no common ground (including foreshore and seabed) whatsoever.

As to this new party's nature, 'ani nil carborundum'has it more or less right. It might develop into something more positive. There again, it probably won't.

But I agree with you that there just might be reason for hope, as there is now room for Labour to portray itself (as in times past) as the party of New Zealand's sane, rooted, socially responsible and humane centre.

We need a different vision to both the solution-free zone of the Gradgrind Right and the macho posturing of a narrow, ethnocentric pseudo-Left.

I do not know whether Labour is equal to this challenge. But, if there is indeed hope, that is where it will lie.

Anonymous said...

Harawira is far too alienating for the Pakeha working class and lower-middle class for Mana to ever be a success - just as Holland was too hardline and alienating for Labour to ever make significant gains under his leadership.

What Mana needs is someone seemingly benign, like Pita Sharples, to lead it. Not only that, but Mana will needs a moment of structural weakness (i.e. a depression) and something the allows them to cloak their own movement in the flag of nationalism, as Labour could do with the War.

Aindriu Macfehin said...

Excellent article thank you Mr Trotter. You have captured well the possibilities and problems Te Mana brings. The comments so far reflect your comments. I believe this is the most exciting development in politics in Aotearoa yet. You are right when you say that supremacist assumptions of the settler state will be challenged. I don't mix with people on the right but so far I would have to say that these assumptions are well entrenched within the left. It is going to be a hard road toward internalising the treaty but when it is done, Aotearoa will be a country worth living in.

Anonymous said...

Anonyomous,"but Mana will needs a moment of structural weakness(i.e.a depression).

I s that not what many N.Zs.are enduring now a depression.What is the old union maxim "it is a recession when your neighbour is made redundant,it is a depression when you are".

Anonymous said...

Very well written. Cheers Chris

Anonymous said...

"For the first time etc etc etc " ?
I understand that Harawira has actually been elected before. Or is it that he wasn't a revolutionary then but has now become one under the tutelage of the revolutionary Matt McC?

Anonymous said...

The wheels will fall of Mana as it doesn't have anything new other than "indigenous eco socialism" which is something dreamed up in the 20th century.
Societies problems are never so black and white that the rigid thinkers of the far-left could remedy them.

Michael said...

Thanks Chris, its nice to hear something positive about Mana. And again, a bit of history, which I'm otherwise largely ignorant of. My impression of NZ politics is that National wins by winning the left, and Labour by winning the right - both parties taking their own constituencies for granted. Its hard to see Mana helping either of those formulas. Personally I wonder if the Maori of the North have hope in any politicians. But at least in Hone they have someone who will make life unpleasant for those who let them down. I can't help chuckling about that myself.

Anonymous said...

As a grassroots maori like myself let me tell you that mana are gaining a lot of momentum and that the maori party are about to be wiped out soon. Maori have put up with the crap that Hide, Brash, English, and co have dished out and now it's Hone's turn.

Anonymous said...

'...the meaning of democracy itself will need to be re-examined...
Conventional notions about the nature of, and the rights pertaining to, private property will have to change.'

Not while my backside points to the floor! Mr. Harawira has contributed nothing I can see except anger, racism, and hate. Comparing him to T W Ratana is just plain wrong. Their visions are totally different - easily seen when you realise their origins. Ratana loved God and the maori and wanted them free from the darkness of tohunga. His vision for white NZ was one of love and a shared future.

Chalk and cheese.


Chris Trotter said...

To: Anonymous@5:37PM

You're quite right, Anonymous, Hone was elected to Te Tai Tokerau in 2005 and 2008, but on both occasions he was cloaked in the moderation of the Maori Party.

Just how uncomfortable he felt in this garment may be judged by how pleased he was to cast it off in February of 2011.

Last Saturday he was elected for the man he is: a man every bit as revolutionary as Paddy Webb and Harry Holland.

Anonymous said...

I remember Chris saying exactly the same things when the Maori Party was formed.

At least that had a leadership able to work within the Parliamentary process and which was capable of thinking before it spoke.

Mana, for all the good ambitions, will never recover from the immense handicap which its leader brings - its all well and good inspiring folk, but when you make them feel foolish a few months later with some supid brain fart, they will drift away just as quickly.

Just as the Maori party klled itself by putting Utu over the foreshore before the interests of its supporters, and voting with the Nats, so Mana will do the same when Hone's need to keep his seat is put to the test and his members call for him to move in a direction he doesn't want to go.

Both parties identified a constituency ripe for better representation, but so long as they come laden with the baggage of 'names' up front who are seeking seats in the house, they will always disapoint in the medium term.

For this constituency to really give loyalty, it will need a good half decade of work under the electoral radar first - picking up the detailed case work which materially affects the lives of those who find dealing with institutions frustrating and frightening, benefit cuts, state housing issues, health care problems and the like - the sort of thing which a good MP should do, but which few can do well these days.

when that ground work is laid, then the talent able to articulate this constituency's needs at a public forum will emerge.

So long as they start the other way around, with a leader seeking a broad base to stand on, they will always end up being dismissed after a few years as 'taking a good game' but delivering nothing.

Loz said...

Something of note did happen on Saturday Chris. Hone gained a constituency seat with fewer votes than any politician since the introduction of MMP. In that sense, Hone is the most unpopular and poorest performing electoral MP of modern times… hardly a great choice of poster child for a movement that wants to grow.

Only three Parliamentarians actually have smaller majorities than Hone (two of those margins were gained by first-time MP's). No matter how the statistics are looked at, Hone performed badly.

Interestingly, in every general election from 1998 Labour has received more votes in Te Tai Tokerau than Hone did over the weekend. If that’s the extent of what Mana can muster when all of their activists concentrate on a single electorate, the organisation should be very deeply worried.

Anonymous said...

Nice read there Trotter, Mana maybe new off the voter's of the poor Nth voting their Man in, but i see more in favour when the poor are hit with water cut offs and doc staff cuts maybe the govt plans to sell off Doc land to the Rich Billon $$ Chinese who,s got a stake down Sth.. what with CHCH starting to show cracks in Govt and Insurance mismanaged its going to be interesting who will have faith in the right or left Parties anymore. By the way wheres all the Maori fisheries profits gone? $36 Billion would of helped out, then i hear on Watea the $47 Billin assets the Te Taitokerau Iwi have up there and Govt is paying out Tax cash for past treaty grievances not even a Billion dollars worth. Something smells about Politics!! no wonder the Mana movement has risen.

jh said...

I think a Labour Maori would be blind to race (all men are brothers x x x!) whereas a Hone Maori is a we the anointed (ie greedy bugger) Maori.

Anonymous said...

The invocation of Holland and Webb doesn't stand up for a second.

Those guys had a comprehensive alternative political vision.

Hone does have some concern for the poor; his remedy is unconvincing.
A few bits and bobs that Matt McCarten gave him. A mishmash of reforms that failed to fire in the Porirua Mana by election.

Unknown said...

Very few people make the transition from professional protester to constructive nation builder.

Grievance can easily become a way of life, a mindset, a default setting.

These are the hurdles Mana will need to overcome if they are to be taken seriously by anyone other than their like minded fellow travelers.

ani nil carborundum said...

The inherent violence in Harawira's persona gives me the biggest worry.
The man in black with the big buckle, the dark shades, the bullying badmouth outbursts, the physical presence and solidarity with "jostlers" of several prime ministers, even after joining the government, his quite blatant abuse of public funding, the public support of "gangstas" organising "martial arts tournaments" with no medical professionals involved, the automatic use of historic grievance to justify his misjudgements, this is a man no political movement should be using as a leader.
If any politician in this country could create an Ireland type tragedy, it is Harawira.

debt relief said...

Wow now that's interesting thank you for posting it

Anonymous said...

The inherent violence in John Key's persona gives me a bigger worry.
As dispacher of SAS troops to kill people on the other side of the world and Minister for the secret police he makes Hone look like a sunday school teacher. Throw in blatant user of public money to holiday at the Taj Maha he's one scary misleader. Doesn't even need the shades.

Victor said...


The aggressive posturing of individuals and political movements is in no way mitigated by the fact that established governments use violence as an instrument of foreign policy.

Do we also want our domestic politics carried out under the shadow of thuggery and the inevitable reaction of counter-thuggery?

I disagree with anti nil carborundum, however, in that I don't think Harawira has the ability to create an 'Ireland' in New Zealand.

Even on his home turf, he got less than 20% of the potential vote. Moreover, most of his voters, it would seem, want him to mend his fences with the dear old folks in the Maori Party.

This man is no Michael Collins. He isn't even a Gerry Adams. Just another vain poseur with an excessively admiring family. We should stop taking him seriously.

Anonymous said...

"Do we also want our domestic politics carried out under the shadow of thuggery and the inevitable reaction of counter-thuggery?"

The most political domestic events are constantly under that shadow.

What do you think cops do to union pickets, bring them tea and cakes?

Victor said...


We do not live in a country in which political issues are normally settled by fisticuffs or more extreme forms of violence.

We do not live in a country where people are , by and large, scared to vote or to express their opinions.

The shadow that you write about is very remote from the lives of most people in New Zealand. However, there are many other countries in which it is, in some form or other, omnipresent.

We certainly don't live in a perfectly peaceful consensual democracy. Nor do we live in a paradise of social justice.

But what point is served by further erosions of our largely peaceful, constitutional and consensual body politic?

Anonymous said...

Noone is calling for further erosions, but its not "our largely peaceful, constitutional and consensual body politic", its theirs.
The working class is marginalised from any of the real decision making.
On the few occasions they have used their collective power to intervene armed police and other state forces have decided the issue.