I noted with interest National Party pollster David Farrar’s post yesterday that said, in essence: “Key would give the Maori Party leaders a ministerial bauble, a seat in the limo. What would a Labour government offer?” To which the obvious response is that Labour would lift Maori living standards. It illustrates a fundamental divide between the Nats and Labour: the Nats see governing as an end in itself, Labour sees it as a vehicle for change in the real world.
That same divide is what we’re seeing between the Maori Party leadership, who are happy to hongi with Key and sit their arses in the limo, and the Hone-faction, who don’t see being in government and compromising with a right-wing government as worthwhile unless its going to deliver real gains for Maori.
How has the Maori Party got itself in this position?
It’s first mistake was going into government with a party (National) with whom it shares little in common. During the 2005-2008 term, the two parties voted together just 25% of the time (the MP voted with Labour 51% of the time and the Greens 75% – ie. the Maori Party predominately voted to the left of Labour). Even this term, the Maori Party votes with National less than half the time, 45%, and with Labour more, 71%.
Yet, they are voting confidence and supply for the National-led government, which means they support National’s budgets, including things like the GST hike and spending cuts for early childhood education.
As I wrote last year, oil and water don’t mix. The Maori Party and National Party’s ideologies can’t be successfully blended, even if it looked like Key had invented alchemy for a while. Voting for right-wing budgets and disgraces like National’s gutting of the Emissions Trading Scheme has inevitably pissed off the Hone-faction, which includes (or, rather, included) a large part of their Parliamentary staffers. These people didn’t go into politics to sell out their beliefs and they’ve rapidly deserted the party over the past two years. The loss of those high quality staffers has seen the Maori Party hand over its media strategy to National, which is why Sharples and Turia’s lines are the same as Key’s.
The situation is very reminiscent of what happened with the Alliance, except that a single political issue (the invasion of Afghanistan) brought the problems to a head. Then, Labour actively supported Jim Anderton and his rump party when his staffers and fellow MPs turned on him. Likewise, the Maori Party leadership have turned to their fellow ministers for help and have become co-opted just as Anderton was.
The result for Labour was bad in the long-run because they killed the Alliance, a potential long-term ally, and got a one-man band in its place that to this day uses Labour support. National thinks it can pull of the same trick but with more positive results by killing off the Hone-faction and getting itself a nice little (2-3 MP) conservative Maori Party rump, which will be tied to it by bounds of loyalty and the fact it is relying on National to supply its media staffers.
But I think National has got that wrong. Unlike the Alliance, which relied on Anderton’s seat as its back-stop and, so, was booted from Parliament entirely when it failed to get over 5% in 2002, each Maori Party MP holds an electorate and Hone holds his very safely. If he stands again, he will be back in. Meanwhile, if Hone-faction members refuse to support Turia, Sharples, and Flavell’s campaigns and run against them as independents or under a new banner then each of them could lose their seats in a three-way race with Labour (Katene is probably going to lose her seat anyway).
The Maori Party is ripping itself apart and the leadership is coming down on the wrong side of the tear. Instead of trying to fix the rip, they have foolishly clung even closer to National. It’s going to be their undoing. But that’s what they get for abandoning their principles and supporting a right-wing government.