Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Maori Party's cold war goes hot

Its been apparent for a while that there has been discontent building within the Maori party's base over its relationship with National and support of National's Marine and Coastal Areas bill. Over the weekend, Hone Harawira took that discontent public, with a Sunday Star-Times column and subsequent interview in which he argued that the party should return to its roots and take a more independent line. This seems to have been too much for the rest of his party to bear, and so they are taking disciplinary action against him.

This will be amusing. Unlike Chris Carter, Harawira has the advantage of being both right and popular. If the Maori Party turfs him out, he has a good chance of standing against them in Te Tai Tokerau and winning (or at the minimum, making them lose). And if they merely try and discipline him without evicting him, he can walk and do the same. Either way, the Parliamentary Maori Party, the faction committed to working with National, loses. On a pragmatic level, then, attempting to rein in Harawira is a dumb move - he is a rebel who will not be tamed. But this isn't about electoral calculation; its about injured pride, anger at being called on their own bullshit, and an authoritarian demand for "loyalty". And that's quite informative about the Maori Party leadership.

The ultimate judgement on whether Harawira is right or wrong will not be made by some Maori party disciplinary process - it will be made by their voters at election-time. Persecuting Harawira won't change that. But it will harden attitudes on each side, and increase the chances of a split or of the party being abandoned by its base. The direct electoral winner from that will be Labour and the Greens. But in the longer term it may remove the Maori Party from its expected position as kingmaker.