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.