Limited Talent: The choice of the John Key and National Party admirer, Kereama Pene, as Mana candidate for Tamaki Makaurau is proof positive that not only is the party's talent pool woefully shallow – so, too, is its political judgement.
WELL, THAT’S IT. For a while there it looked as though the Mana Party just might turn into something worthwhile – a second chance for all those who were dismayed to see the Alliance crash and burn over Afghanistan back in 2001-2002.
But, no. Mana’s announcement that Kereama Pene, a minister of the Ratana Church, is to contest the Tamaki Makaurau seat has put an end to all that.
Mr Pene is a flamboyant character who has, at one time or another, been a supporter of the Mana Motuhake, Labour, Destiny and Maori parties. He is also on record as saying the Prime Minister, John Key, is “ a person who should be admired”.
Not content with singing the Prime Minister’s praises, Mr Pene has also publicly declared that: “National is actually the group that have done most of the great things for Maoridom over the past 20 years.” Identifying (erroneously) the Treaty Settlements Process, the Waitangi Tribunal and the Kohanga Reo Movement as National Party achievements, Mana’s Tamaki Makaurau candidate told the NZ Herald: “You’ve got to give praise where its due.”
These statements show Mr Pene to be, at best, a dangerously naive political novice, or, at worst, a ticking time-bomb, guaranteed to explode at the worst possible moment. His remarks have deeply compromised the Mana Party at a time when political journalists are already discussing its lack of momentum, and its failure to capitalise on Leader Hone Harawira’s success in retaining the Te Tai Tokerau seat.
The Tamaki Makaurau contest required a candidate of real ability and, well, mana: someone capable of being “retailed” to the Maori electorate. For a while it was assumed that the candidacy would go to the former Alliance MP, and highly successful Maori broadcaster, Willie Jackson. Wisely, Mr Jackson thought better of it – as did his Radio Live side-kick, the former Labour MP, John Tamihere.
The reluctance of these two veterans to risk their reputations (and salaries) in the race for Tamaki Makaurau spoke volumes about Mana’s readiness to engage in the high-octane environment of mainstream electoral politics.
The sort of person to break the grip of Maori Party co-leader, Pita Sharples, and bar the way to Labour’s Shane Jones, had to be able to connect with Tamaki Makaurau's energetic, secular and overwhelmingly youthful population. Someone out of Maori TV’s stable of young, talented and "tuned-in" presenters would have been ideal: a Julian Wilcox or Annabelle Lee Harris.
The choice of Mr Pene is grim evidence that, after Hone Harawira and Annette Sykes, Mana finds itself struggling to identify Maori candidates of genuine (and electable) political talent among its ranks.
It is difficult to see Mana’s erstwhile mover-and-shaker, Matt McCarten, allowing Mr Pene to carry the party’s colours into such an important and highly visible contest. Before being forced out of Mana’s day-to-day decision-making processes by illness, Mr McCarten had set up an extremely testing set of political and organisational hurdles that every prospective candidate was required to clear before their nomination could be accepted. The choice of Mr Pene for Tamaki Makaurau suggests that these pre-requisites are now being honoured more in the breach than in the execution.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that Mana would have been wiser to put the radical lawyer, Annette Sykes, into the Tamaki Makaurau seat. Waiariki may include Ms Sykes’ own Te Arawa iwi among its constituents, but that very fact carries with it a significant disadvantage. Te Arawa are among the least accommodating of Maori tribes when it comes to recognising the rights of women, and this may well count against Mana's candidate in the looming battle with the Maori Party’s Te Ururoa Flavell. Tamaki Makaurau is an almost entirely urban seat, containing Maori from all over Aotearoa. Pitted against Mr Sharples and Mr Jones, Ms Sykes would have attracted considerable support – across many iwi affiliations.
Too late now. Mr Pene’s selection is proof positive that not only is Mana’s talent pool woefully shallow – so, too, is its political judgement.
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.