Take it or leave it, says John Key to the Maori Party over the foreshore and seabed. So much for consultation and collective decision making with their government partner. Like the trader he is, Key’s made his offer – symbolic change and nothing more. If the Maori Party don’t want to buy, he doesn’t care. Key doesn’t need to make the deal. The Maori Party does.
The Maori Party has given a hell of a lot in its side of the deal with National. It’s voted for GST hikes, for education cuts, for health cuts, for conservation cuts, for state housing cuts, for gutting the ETS, for a Supercity with no Maori seats. It was supported a government that has attacked beneficiaries and workers alike. It has borne insults like the Tuhoe cannibal ‘joke’ and been forced to accept an insultingly small amount of funding for its flagship social policy. The ‘drivers of crime’ initiative has received nothing except for a one-day workshop. Maori Party ministers have been continually left out of decision-making and chosen to accept humiliating public back downs when National springs things on them.
Crucially, the Maori Party has been a fig leaf hiding the true rightwing nature of this government. Imagine if National and ACT alone had passed a Budget with GST hikes, spending cuts, and borrowing to pay for tax cuts to the rich. Everyone would have agreed it was the most rightwing Budget in 19 years. But the Maori Party’s support helped muddy the waters.
Its got a few beads and blankets, and a flag on a bridge for a day, but essentially the Maori Party has been keeping the faith with National and building up the debt to be repaid with a good deal on the foreshore and seabed.
But Key’s banked all that the Maori Party has given him. Now that it’s his turn to do the giving, he’s not interested. Why should he? What use is the Maori Party to him now? What does he care if they walk away? He’s gotten what he needs from them and with an election just over a year away its time for him to distance himself from them anyway.
Key stands to win either way. If the Maori Party walks way from the government over the foreshore and seabed deal, he can say he has refused to give in to extremism and middle New Zealand will love it. If the Maori Party kowtows then Key is the great uniter.
The Maori Party have been honest, if naive, brokers through out. Their reward has been to be screwed over time and again. I want to be clear that I, like many on the Left, supported the Maori Party breaking off to be a dedicated voice for Maori while sharing, as Pita Sharples and others have said, the same underlying leftwing values as the rest of us. But most on the Left opposed them getting into bed with National because it was always going to go down this way.
The best the Maori Party can do now is prove that it is about principles, not baubles, and walk away from the government with what is left of its dignity intact.