John Key paid a lot of attention to the centre. He liked to be liked (his only legacy is really popularity & kicking the can down the road), so always made a show of reaching across to those outside the traditional National support base. His whole relationship with the Maori Party, who vote mostly in line with Labour; his ‘concern’ for the underclass and Aroha Ireland; his turnaround on WFF; his yearly raise of the minimum wage and the first above inflation rise of benefits in 25 years – a lot of it was cover for conservatively doing nothing, or even slipping in some right-wing policies like selling 50% of assets, but outside parliament1 his presentation was of reaching out. (While letting his Social Development Minister, now deputy PM, dox any citizen who disagreed with her)
Bill English doesn’t seem to be following Key’s example. He’s manufactured a stoush with Te Tii Marae to look tough against ‘them Maoris’, when they were clearly offering him a chance to speak straight after the Maori welcome, just not during (although he probably could have if he could speak Maori…).
But it’s not just that – he’s also skipping the non-controversial national dawn service at the upper Marae and apparently going to skip Ratana too. He’s denying Maori have reasons to protest (‘cringe-worthy’), as iwi have been given money for claims – never-mind ongoing Maori over-representation in poverty, prison, joblessness, poor health and low life expectancy statistics.
This looks like the politics of division English practised as opposition leader, fore-running Brash on foreshore etc. A return to the nasty party that was always lurking under Key’s cool exterior.
Where does this leave the Maori Party? Key cultivated them to give his coalition breathing space and a look of broadness. But will they put up with English? Without Turia there’s not the same anti-Labour personal animosity, so he can hardly depend on them post-election. No doubt that’s why there’s another Dunne deal, as he could be vital to National not needing an early election…
1. Inside parliament Key was as sneering and nasty as they come – now ‘get some guts’ goes to relax in Hawaii, while the ex-Labour leader heads to sort out civil war in South Sudan…