Friday, July 16, 2004

It's Party Time

So Tariana Turia has been delivered back into parliament bringing along with her a brand new Maori Party.
Even though only 9 thousand or so bothered voting in this by-election, and that National and Labour did not even bother contesting it, this birth of a new voice for Maori is one of those real big significant moments you hear about. Historical like. Although so far those it purports to represent are not receiving much of a service.

This Maori Party is an odd beast. The Te Tai Hauaura electorate voted it into being site-unseen. In a novel twist on the electoral process the party did not actually present any policy for people to vote on. None at all. They promised, however, that once they were voted in they’d set about working out what they stood for. People may suspect that this is how politics really works but parties are rarely, if ever, this open about it.

The reason they could do this is because the electorate was actually voting to let everyone know what they didn’t like. They didn’t like how Tariana Turia had been treated by that Helen Clark bully, (making her lie down in limos – the indignity) and they didn’t like the Foreshore and Seabed legislation.

So The Maori Party was voted into being not because people knew what it stood for, but because they knew what it stood against.

Simple really and fair enough too. Except, now that they are a party in Parliament they seem to have already forgotten what it was that they were busy standing against.

In some of their first public pronouncements as a living breathing political entity they have gone to serious lengths to assure the country, and Maoridom in particular, that they aren’t very happy with Labour. No surprises there. What is surprising is that they’ve repeatedly stressed that they are very open to working with National after the next election.
Aye? Come again?
It pays here to take a couple of steps back and do some obvious-stating.

The Maori party is there, principally, because Turia’s electorate did not want the Foreshore and Seabed Bill passed. Neither, come to mention it, did the National party. But the rather important detail they differ over is that Turia’s support base didn’t like it because they thought it took too much away from Maori, while National did not like it because they thought it gave away too much to Maori.

Not natural partners by any stretch of the imagination. In fact National were probably more surprised by these statements of intent than the Maori electorate. I am glad I am not on the Maori roll because if this was the first sentient actions of my best option for parliamentary representation I’d be declaring myself jedi on the next census.

There is in fact a touch of the mythical to the whole process. Just the action of calling yourself The Maori Party is to deal in fantasy. If someone were silly enough to set up the Pakeha Party they wouldn’t necessarily get my vote. The very idea that someone could presume to speak for a large group with something so arbitrary in common would guarantee they didn’t. That someone already has set up the NZ Pakeha party only serves to prove the point – I won’t be voting National anytime soon, well not until I’m older and richer anyway.

The Maori vote, however, is not mythical like a dragon. I say this because it evidently does exist – there are seven special electorates, and because it doesn’t hoard treasure - if you don’t believe me just look at the Tainui Treaty settlement and where all the money in that has gone.
Although it isn’t dragon mythical the Maori vote it is still taken to flights of fancy – as in electing NZ First in a clean sweep a couple of elections ago.
This action of electing seven NZ First MPs in 1996 conclusively proves a couple of things about the Maori electorate:
Firstly it shows that it is a lot more exciting than the General electorate. The only comparable behaviour found in the General electorate is the rise of United Future. The difference being that while no one can remember who is in United Future, no-one will ever forget the NZ First Maori MPs. Especially not Tuku Morgan and his brother-in-law Tau Henare. Indeed Winston Peters, no shrinking violet himself, was so badly burnt by the whole experience that after that debacle he decided to no longer contest the Maori seats, and later decided he wanted to do away with the seats altogether.

And the second thing the NZ First clean sweep proves is that the Maori electorate is not stupid: the very next election it didn’t return a single one of those seven MPs.

But what about The Maori Party’s mixed or still to be made-up messages? It isn’t, strange as it may seem, too much to worry about. By the next election they will, hopefully, have things like guiding principles. Though of course to survive for long they’ll want to stick to them. It might pay to remember that the electorate that just voted Tariana Turia and The Maori party in, Te Tai Hauauru, has the same name as the place Tuku Morgan first stood.

So what, finally, to make of the Maori Party’s counter-intuitive advances to National?

Well it seems to be a severe case of sour-grapes. Turia and company are still livid with Labour. Even so the party probably don’t seriously believe they could work with National. They’re trying to indicate a willingness to do so, basically, to piss Labour off and make them do the wooing. Not a big and clever tactic but a tactic none the less.

In any event, for The Maori electorate’s sake this had better not be a bit of the old my-enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend philosophy. This approach would hold up fine, except The Maori Party seems to have forgotten, or not realised, that in this case their enemy’s enemy is also their natural predator.


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