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A Hollow Victory For Hone In Te Tai Tokerau

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford
Hone Harawira

 Congratulations to Hone Harawira for last night's by-election victory in Te Tai Tokerau.

I predicted on this blog a week ago that Hone would get the numbers. Matt McCarten's genius at staging electorate level fights helped Hone. McCarten's well honed campaign management skills probably saved Hone when he couldn't even save himself at times.

I also correctly predicted that Hone's majority would be either side of 500 votes. Essentially, Hone is very lucky to have an election night majority of 867 votes. Therefore, his victory is rather a hollow one given the low turnout (41 percent) and the huge swing towards Labour's Kelvin Davis. Clearly, Harawira and Mana will now have to tie up more resources that they could have expended on a national party list campaign in just defending Te Tai Tokerau at the November 26 election.

Obviously, McCarten's strategy is to build a 'fortress Te Tai Tokerau' in the same way that he built a 'Fortress Wigram' and a 'Fortress Sydenham' for Jim Anderton and a 'Fortress Te Tai Haururu' for Tariana Turia. While having an electorate seat is an important safeguard under our MMP system, historically, it has not incentivised small parties with only one electorate seat to sustainably grow their support levels nationwide. There are numerous examples of small parties in this situation. Think Peter Dunne (United) in Ohariu. Think Rodney Hide (Act) in Epsom. Think the post-Alliance Jim Anderton (Progressives) in Wigram.

Hone's mandate is also largely personal too. He was able to successfully argue that all of the major parliamentary parties (including National, Act, Labour and even the Greens) were against him and that a vote for him and Mana was a vote against the elite establishment. Yet, Hone reportedly in 2008 warmed to the idea of being made a Cabinet minister as part of the supply and confidence deal the Maori Party concluded with National. If that is true, then Hone was prepared to become a part of the political elite himself.

Further, how far left is Harawira and Mana? I read on the New Zealand Herald website today that Hone envisages that his Mana movement will one day reunite with the Maori Party once Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples retire. It's very clear to me that Hone seperated from the Maori Party only on account of the foreshore and seabed legislation. Otherwise, he would still be sitting in the Maori caucus room today helping prop up the Nats (while still being critical of them). Also, after the Mana Party's official launch last month, I have not heard another word about Mana's plans to re-nationalise state assets either. I did read his rather poorly communicated announcement too that unemployed rangatahi should take part in a state funded job creation scheme where they would be paid the minimum wage for a full 40 hour's work. This poor communication on Harawira's part led Sunday News to initially report that he was supportive of a National Party style work for the dole scheme. However, clarifying comments from Sue Bradford on Facebook spelt out that this was a Keynesian-style employment creation programme.

Still, there were many people on the Left (like me) who have grown more sceptical about Harawira by the day.  As I have said previously, I was supportive of the concept of a new left party taking shape, using Mana as one of its bases, at the time of its launch. Now I am very unsure. Hone's flitful behaviour during the by-election campaign has served to reinforce that view. Hone has pointed out as I have outlined above that Mana may only be the vehicle to enable him to rejoin the Maori Party. If that is so, then Harawira ultimately wants to lead a more left-leaning Maori Party. In Harawira's mind, last night's by-election victory was a first step towards realising that goal. However, many of his former Maori Party colleagues may block that ambition. And that might mean, longer-term, that Harawira's victory might be truly hollow in more ways than one.

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