Hooton on Labour’s skulduggery in Te Tai Tokerau

Matthew Hooton uses his NBR column to explain about David Cunliffe’s skullduggery in Te Tai Tokerau.

Less widely reported was Mr Key’s reference to the Maori Party. Like National voters in Epsom and Ohariu, the prime minister told those in the Maori electorates to back his support parties’ candidates.

This is a bit cheeky: National doesn’t run candidates in the Maori electorates because, theoretically, its policy is to abolish them (although it’s extremely doubtful Mr Key personally agrees, given his commitment to national reconciliation).

That’s why Mr Key’s nod to the Maori Party is so important. Under MMP, this election remains too close to call. For National to have a chance of a third term, Mr Key may well need Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell to retain Waiariki. Even more important is the result in Hone Harawira’s Te Tai Tokerau electorate, which spans Cape Reinga to West Auckland.

Most commentators assume Mr Harawira is completely safe, especially now he has scored Kim Dotcom’s dosh. But that reveals they haven’t looked at the data very carefully.

Three years ago, Mr Harawira only sneaked back into parliament, beating Labour’s Kelvin Davis by a mere 1165 votes, 6% of those cast. Labour won the party vote easily, by 10%. For his part, Mr Harawira’s majority was well less than National’s party vote and also NZ First’s (see table below). Obviously, many National and NZ First voters backed the Maori Party’s candidate, while Green voters backed Mr Harawira.

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This time, the Maori Party has Te Hira Paenga as its candidate. He would make an excellent MP. A father of five, he has post-graduate qualifications and is assistant principal at Hato Petera College. Whatever: he should fall on his taiaha. 

I have heard from Labour sources that the Maori caucus wants to cut a deal with the Labour party, but that David Cunliffe wants nothing to do with it because of his secret deal with Internet Mana. Senior Maori Laobur members have tried to broker a deal where the Maori party spikes their candidate in Te Tai Tokerau and the quid pro quo is Labour spikes their candidate in Waiariki. This has been vetoed by Cunliffe.

Looking at the numbers, were the Maori Party to indicate its supporters should back Labour’s Mr Davis, he would be a shoe in. Mr Harawira would be toast and Laila Harré, Annette Sykes and John Minto would also fail to grace the doors of parliament.  Beyond a Maori Party nod, Mr Davis would become invincible were Mr Key and Winston Peters to also back him over the Harawira clan.

This is not as cynical as it sounds. Like Mr Paenga, Mr Davis is a new generation of Maori leader. While committed to the Treaty of Waitangi and tikanga Maori, he ranks education and economic development ahead of grievance. More broadly, Mr Davis is thetype of centrist Labourite that it needs to touch 40% again. He was appalled by Mr Cunliffe’s “manpology” and supports Gerry Brownlee’s new motorway connecting the far north with Auckland. It goes without saying Mr Cunliffe’s supporters despise him.

Mr Davis has hard working volunteers determined to return him to parliament. Their motivation grew when Labour’s list ranking committee gave their man an unwinnable place. Worse, emails obtained by NBR show Labour’s head office actively backs Mr Harawira. Just one example: on July 9, Labour’s general secretary Tim Barnett urged Mr Davis’ activists not to do anything that “picks a fight with Internet Mana.”

“I know that is your local fight,” Mr Barnett went on, “but to present that nationally would not be helpful when both [Labour and Mana] are presenting as progressive.”

Kel Davis is under intense pressure from Labour HQ and David Cunliffe to no fight in Te Tai Tokerau. There are almost no signs up in a survey completed by Ground Crew members in Northland, where as there are literally hundreds of Harawira signs. On top of that several fundraising initiatives have been cancelled or spiked by Labour HQ and the leader’s office. Kelvin Davis has no money and no support, the deal has been done and he has been thrown under the bus.

While David Cunliffe professes to hate coat-tailing he is actively assisting a party who intend to coat-tail and also to support Labour into government.

However tempting, the prime minister is probably not the best person to endorse Mr Davis. But surely the Maori Party recognises it is both in its immediate and long-term interests to take out Mr Harawira. That would establish the party formed by Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples as the undisputed voice of Maori in parliament, confirming them as the greatest Maori leaders since colonisation.

If Mr Paenga cares about his party’s kaupapa and Maori aspirations, he has no choice. He should do what National’s Paul Goldsmith and Brett Hudson have done for their party in Epsom and Ohariu: focus on the bigger picture and take one for the team.

Likewise Labour’s maori caucus needs to exert some mana and control and defy David Cunliffe and do the deal in Waiariki. Surely there is some maori trough somewhere both capitulating candidates could be accommodated within.

 

– NBR


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