The New Zealand Herald has a telling story today about how the Maori Party’s decision over whether to prop up a right-wing National/ACT government “has exposed a schism between iwi elite views and ordinary Maori”.
Ordinary working class Maori who’ve felt the brunt of right-wing policies in the past are, unsurprisingly, not keen to sacrifice their whanau’s interests again, while those at the head of the new Maori business class who stand to gain from a National/ACT government are all for it.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, it merely exposes the fundamental contradiction in an identity-based party. Because while the Maori Party claims class isn’t an issue and that it can speak for all Maori, the simple fact is we live in a capitalist society where class is the defining political and economic divide.
There are times when the Maori Party will have to choose between backing the interests of the Maori working class or the interests of the Maori business elite. A common Maori identity is no use when one side wants a pay rise and the other wants to keep its profits; when one side wants a top-bracket tax cut and the other wants better public health and education.
We saw this contradiction when the Maori Party backed, then opposed, National’s 90 day fire at will bill. We saw it again when the Maori Party said it was for raising the minimum wage, then opposed an increase for workers on foreign fishing vessels. We will no doubt see a lot more of it in the weeks and months to come.
My concern is that in its pollyannish refusal to accept the reality of class the Maori Party will sell its people down the river on the false right-wing promise of ‘ambition’, and they won’t realise what they’ve done until it’s far too late.
Identity politics can be a dangerous thing.