Principled Decision Or Dangerous Gamble? Hone Harawira's fate, and the future of his new Mana Party, will turn on the number of residual Maori Party voters in the Te Tai Tokerau seat who decide to vote strategically and cast their ballot for Labour's Kelvin Davis.
MAORI TELEVISION’S POLL must have landed like a turd on the carpet at Mana Party headquarters. Suddenly, the race for Te Tai Tokerau was too close to call.
The coronation that Hone Harawira and his Mana Party campaigners were expecting had unaccountably become a contest.
The initial reaction of the Mana camp to the MTV poll was denial.
It is now an article of faith among some sections of the Left that the methodology of New Zealand pollsters is irredeemably flawed. They argue that since more and more young, brown and/or poor Kiwis no longer use landlines, polling agencies which continue to rely on interviews with landline subscribers are bound to produce results significantly skewed towards the opinions of old, white and rich voters.
The Mana Party’s most vociferous media champion, Martyn “Bomber” Bradbury is so certain of this that he refers to the results of the leading polling agencies as “brain farts”.
According to Bomber, the findings of the MTV poll – showing Hone Harawira on 41 percent; Labour’s Kelvin Davis on 40 percent; and the Maori Party’s Solomon Tipene on 15 percent – may be safely disregarded.
A statistically significant percentage of Hone’s core vote, says Bomber, is made up of the young, the economically-marginalised and the angry – voters who communicate by cell-phone. Had Maori Television’s pollster contacted these people, the explosive Mr Bradbury declared, the results would have shown Hone heading for a landslide by-election victory.
IF HONE’S CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE had faith in Bomber’s gospel it certainly wasn’t reflected in their actions. No less than Team Kelvin, Team Hone was well-and-truly galvanised by the MTV poll.
Carloads of young Mana supporters, some from as far away as Rotorua, headed north to muscle-up their champion’s effort.
Labour, too, called every activist to the party’s colours. Morale soared – and not without reason. In a straightforward get-out-the-vote effort, Labour has few rivals.
Or, perhaps, for the sake of accuracy, that should be, in general seats Labour has few rivals. Quite what the disaffected Maori electors of Te Tai Tokerau made of Labour’s middle-class Pakeha activists is anyone’s guess.
ON THE GROUND, then, it appears to have been a pretty fair fight: Mana’s youthful energy versus Labour’s well-honed professionalism. Even so, the fact that he and his people have been fighting on their own turf probably hasn’t hurt Hone’s chances.
Add to this home-ground advantage the irrefutable argument that by electing Kelvin, the voters of Te Tai Tokerau will get Kelvin alone. But a vote for Hone will net them two MPs: Hone as Mana’s Electorate MP for Te Tai Tokerau; Kelvin as a Labour Party List MP.
Two Maori MPs with just one vote – you can’t say fairer than that!
THE VAGARIES of First-Past-The-Post electoral contests are not, however, even remotely fair.
Provided his opponents remain loyal to their respective party colours, an FPP candidate’s mission is relatively straight-forward: get more votes than your nearest rival. Where things get murky is when the candidate’s opponents’ are so utterly determined upon his political destruction that they temporarily set aside their differences and swing the entire opposition vote behind the party with the best chance of defeating him. When that happens a simple plurality of votes won’t do. Faced with a united opposition, a candidate has to win more than half of the votes cast.
Can Hone do that?
He did it in 2008: polling 58.7 percent of the Electorate Vote he was a daunting 6,308 votes ahead of his nearest rival.
The question upon which Hone’s future, and the Far Left’s hopes for a radical socialist alternative to Labour and the Greens, hinges, is a simple one.
“How large is the Maori Party’s “swing-able” vote in Te Tai Tokerau?”
If, as the MTV Poll suggests, it’s around 15 percent, then Mr Harawira is in trouble.
If it’s less than 8 percent, he’s in.
By nine o’clock tomorrow evening we should know if, once again, old-age and treachery have out-gunned youthful idealism.
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 24 June 2011.