Kingmaker - Or Breaker? Buoyed, perhaps, by the growing economic power of the Iwi Leadership Group, and encouraged by the willingness of first John Key, and now Bill English, to pay lip-service to the Maori Party’s grandiose schemes for constitutional reform and post-democratic power-sharing, Tukoroirangi Morgan is intent on organising a clean-sweep of the Maori electorates and then leveraging his party’s “kingmaker” status into a full-scale revolution in Maori-Pakeha relations.
TUKOROIRANGI MORGAN’S AMBITIONS for his king are huge. But are the shoulders of his King, Tuheitia Paki, broad enough to carry them? The Maori Party President’s chances of success would, undoubtedly, be greater if he was able to entrust the realisation of his plans to a more experienced sovereign. But, would a more experienced Maori monarch have been as willing to put the Kingitanga in harm’s way?
Because the potential for the Kingitanga to be harmed by Morgan’s ambitious electoral strategy is considerable. King Tuheitia has thrown the prestige of his title behind Rahui Papa, one of his leading counsellors – and the Maori Party’s pick for the parliamentary seat currently occupied by the King’s cousin, Nanaia Mahuta.
The insult to Mahuta is both implicit and explicit. Not only has the King broken with his mother’s, Queen Te Ātairangikaahu’s, practice of maintaining a careful neutrality vis-à-vis party politics – to the obvious disadvantage of his kinswoman – but he has also seen fit to garnish Papa’s royal endorsement with the extraordinary charge that Mahuta no longer has any mana in Parliament.
This unprecedented foray into electoral politics is reckless on at least two counts. First, the King’s disparaging reference to Mahuta’s current status betrays an inadequate grasp of the intricacies of Pakeha politics. Second, it assumes a willingness to be directed on the part of the voters of Hauraki-Waikato which may not, in practice, extend anything like as far as the polling booth.
Mahuta’s fall in Labour’s caucus ranking reflects nothing more than the political exigencies of the 2014 leadership transition from David Cunliffe to Andrew Little. Any change of leader will, inevitably, be accompanied by a reordering of the caucus hierarchy. While the friends and allies of the former leader are eased down, the friends and allies of the new leader are eased up. That Mahuta is still to be found among the top twelve Labour MPs in 2017 is actually a tribute to her enduring mana – not proof of its loss.
The King, along with his chief political strategist, Morgan, may also be misreading the character of the Waikato and Maniapoto people’s relationship to the Kingitanga. Throughout his mother’s long reign, the Maori monarchy underwent a subtle but crucial shift from representing the scorched banner of colonial era resistance to symbolising the enduring dignity and resilience of New Zealand’s indigenous culture.
Morgan’s determination to see himself as the re-incarnation of Wiremu Tamihana, “The Kingmaker” and to conceive of his political mission as the fulfilment of Tamihana’s dream: the reconstitution and preservation of Maori sovereignty in New Zealand; moves the Kingitanga out of Dame Te Ātairangikaahu’s symbolic realm and into the all-too-real world of cut-and-thrust power politics.
Clearly, Morgan is convinced that the outcome of this second attempt to establish dual sovereignties within a single, unitary state will turn out very differently from the first. Moreover, he has been successful in persuading the Maori King to test his hypothesis.
Buoyed, perhaps, by the growing economic power of the Iwi Leadership Group, and encouraged by the willingness of first John Key, and now Bill English, to pay lip-service to the Maori Party’s grandiose schemes for constitutional reform and post-democratic power-sharing, Morgan is intent on organising a clean-sweep of the Maori electorates and then leveraging his party’s “kingmaker” status into a full-scale revolution in Maori-Pakeha relations.
The Labour Leader, Andrew Little, and Labour’s Maori caucus, are betting that Maori voters on both the Maori and General electoral rolls are nowhere near ready to indulge the Maori Party President’s political fantasies to this extent. They are convinced that if the choice presented to Maori voters is between restarting the Land Wars of the Nineteenth Century, and winning improved access to employment, housing, education and health services in the Twenty-First, then they will opt, overwhelmingly, for the latter.
And if they do – especially if they vote that way in the Maori seat of Hauraki-Waikato – then the mana of the Maori King will be diminished to the point where abdication becomes the only remaining dignified response. His successor, if there is one, will then be faced with the challenge of reconstituting the Kingitanga to more closely correspond to the cultural aspirations of Twenty-First Century Maori.
King Tuheitia would be wise to familiarise himself with how the kings of old dealt with “over-mighty subjects” – because he has one.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 17 March 2017.