Senior Maori Party staffers have been deserting the party in droves in recent months, including chief of staff Harry Walker, repulsed by the leadership selling out to National. It’s gotten so bad that they’ve had to out-source their spin doctoring to the Tories. You think I’m joking? I wish. This illuminates Hone Harawira’s fight with the leadership.
Check out these two press releases from the Maori Party on Tuesday after Phil Goff’s announcement:
Goff too doom and gloom on Maori youth
Goff’s silence on Treaty an insult to Ratana and Maori
Remember, this is the response to a speech that promised to put $525 a year into the pocket of every Maori (and everyone else) and reduce the cost of buying a house. Great news for Maori. Bad news for National. And that’s why these press releases have come out swinging with totally uncalled for aggression at a time when Labour is trying to mend bridges.
Watch the lines from the Maori Party and National over the Harawira issue and they’re exactly the same. National says Harawira must go and the Maori Party has made gains it couldn’t have in opposition, and up pops Tariana Turia saying exactly the same thing.
The leadership of the Maori Party has been co-opted by the National Party and there is no way out for them. They tied their mana to making the coalition with National work. They told their skeptical supporters: ‘trust us’.
Now, the Harawira camp is saying ‘you have failed to deliver for Maori’. If they had any sense, they would admit it, take the blow to their mana, and either the coalition or lay down the kind of bottom lines that Harawira suggests. But pride cometh before the fall. The leadership is too proud to admit they made a huge mistake, even to themselves. Instead, they’re spending the scandalous sum of $25,000 hiring Mai Chen in their effort to evict Harawira from the party.
But I think it’s pretty clear the leadership don’t have the grounds to do it (it’s also not clear from the party constitution that they have the power). The only clause they can try to get Harawira with is:
11.2 Disciplinary action may be brought against a member who – in any other way wilfully brings the party or its members into public disrepute.
But Harawira hasn’t brought the party or its members into disrepute – he’s earned the most acclaim from Maori Party supporters and the public in general for what he has said than any other Maori Party MP in years. He hasn’t done anything wrong. He has just said that the party should listen to its base and stand by its principles. It’s not his fault that the leadership has sold out.
What initially looked like Harawira picking a fight as a cause to leave the party is now looking more like a leadership challenge. Both the leadership and Harawira have gone all in this time. If they can’t win the support of enough National Council members to oust Harawira (and win any subsequent litigation) then the leaders while be fatally undermined. And into the void, Harawira is increasingly signaling he is ready to step.