One of the givens in political discussion is the left-right divide. The right traditionally seeks to defend privilege, the left to demolish it. So where does the Maori Party fit in? According to Jordan Carter, on the wrong side:
It seems to me that the Maori Party's ambition is to work back towards an illusory golden past of Maoridom, where individuality is subsumed under collective whanau, hapu and iwi identities. This is highlighted by the constant references to whanau, hapu and iwi in their speeches; by their hostility to the inevitable effects of modernity and the Enlightenment on Maori society; by their desire to see social services dominated by a Maori "Aristocracy" (also known as iwi-based service agencies) rather than the universal services provided by the welfare state.
That party stands for the antithesis of left wing politics, and of liberal politics...
Jordan is right. To the extent that the Maori Party works to advantage and entrench the tribal aristocracy, they are clearly a party of the right, and the only difference between them and National is whose privileges they are defending. But at the same time, I'm not quite so sure as Jordan about the evil, aristocrat-entrenching effects of iwi-based service agencies. David Slack touches on them briefly in Civil War, and points out that they (mostly) work and achieve good results. And if they work, and are more accessible to Maori than the welfare state, then why not fund things that way? Provided they are well-run, and provided that we are not abandoning people in need to be abused by their own iwi or hapu (in other words, provided these service agencies deliver the same universal services as the state would), then what is the objection?
I also wonder whether the Maori Party would be able to promote aristocratic privilege even if it wanted to. One of the consequences of their taking the Parliamentary path is accountability. If they succeed in getting funding devolved, and there are governance problems, then they will be held to account in Parliament. More importantly, if they fail to deliver - if the people who see this as a solution to their problems are disappointed - they will be held to account at the ballot box. And this I think is ultimately what will drive the Maori Party back to the left - because the key problems facing Maori are ordinary ones of health, education, jobs and welfare, and if the Maori Party wants to get re-elected, it will have to focus on solving them. They're riding an enormous wave of anger and hope which should see them safely into Parliament this time - but if they don't deliver on those key issues, then the tide will just as quickly go out.