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Maori Party Drags National Into 'Death Spiral'

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Dave Griffith
Dave Griffith

Being the only racially based political party in parliament means that the Maori Party has always had an uphill battle to remain a unified force.

Most other parties are ideologically based, so their members and supporters know what they were signing up for. National Party supporters know that they can expect a Centre-Right policy platform from their parliamentary team. Greens supporters can expect a left-wing environmentally friendly socialist agenda from their team.

The Maori Party however represent a section of a single racial group within our nation. Their constituency is drawn from all areas of the political spectrum, all with their own set of expectations about what their representatives in parliament should be doing on their behalf. Because of this there is a much greater likelihood of internal divisions in the Maori Party than other political parties.

The policy band that National and Labour operate within is largely a good fit with their supporters so there is little cause for public internal blood-letting over an issue. The Maori Party unfortunately doesn't have that luxury, with tribal differences further clouding the way for smooth political navigation.

The origins of the party were not born in harmony either. An increasingly patronising Labour Government took the Maori seats for granted and went one step too far for many Maori voters with the foreshore and seabed legislation forcing a split. National wanting the final nail in the coffin of the Clark Government were only too happy to embrace the fledgling Maori Party with its rapidly growing support base. The promise of a partnership in Government and the carrot of the mana enhancing position of Minister of Maori Affairs was all it took to seal an unlikely alliance.

It is a measure of how badly Labour strategists misjudged the mood of the Maori electorate that a power sharing deal was done so easily between former enemies. However despite the unity laden glow of first love, supporters from both the Maori Party and National would have been dismayed at the union and we can't print here what ACT would have thought.

Hone Harawira's outbursts are only going to be the latest in a continuing string of public crises that the Maori Party will have to face. To successfully survive they need strong but moderate leadership who can present a united public face and show that they can play their part in producing a stable government.

The fact that Harawira looks like he is being retained within the party is a brave move on the part of the Maori Party leadership. He has proven in the past that he is unable to curb his radical tendencies and readily puts personal and tribal agendas before his party and the Government they are part of. Any apology he gives as part of his reconciliation would rank as one of the most insincere and hypocritical we have seen in a long time, and is probably better left unsaid.      

All the while National supporters must be wriggling in discomfort at the rhetoric and actions on display from some Maori Party supporters.

There is a chunk of the electorate in this country, who are mainly older and right-wing in nature that prefer our indigenous population to knuckle under and get on with living and being successful in a white mans world. There is also a good portion of the Maori electorate that have had enough of two centuries of being second class citizens and want the partnership sentiments of the Treaty of Waitangi to be honoured - now.

For the majority of us stuck in the middle who are proud of our Maori and European heritage as a nation, and want to see us develop as a mature multi-cultural democracy,  the public antics of extremists on both sides only serves to inflame the old deep seated differences, instead of maintaining a dialogue of partnership. When one side takes a radical stance it only serves to harden the resolve of the other side and often only ends up driving moderates into the radical camp.

For John Key, while he and his Government remain popular they can weather the storm that the Maori Party divisions have created so far. But the longer this goes an and the Maori Party is prepared to accommodate divisive radicals like Hone Harawira, then some of Nationals own supporters are going to temporarily jump ship until they can trust their Party to be true to its principles again.

It might not be on the same scale as when the Lange Government took a sharp right turn away from its support base in the 1980's but it will be enough to open up the door to a left-wing coalition being able to mount a viable challenge at the next general election.

Similarly some Maori Party supporters are going to be uneasy with the compromises their Party is making in supporting National in Government. As things stand at the moment, the Maori Party is in real danger of splintering. Unfortunately for National, if this 'death spiral' continues they are locked in with the Maori Party, for better or for worse. To add further uncertainty, ACT are going to be increasingly distancing themselves from government policy that has been compromised for the sake of the Maori Party.

National is definitely strong enough to survive a Maori Party meltdown, but the longer they condone radical agendas the more damage will be done as disaffected supporters temporarily turn off their electoral allegiance and donor funds.

Another six months of what we have experienced from the Maori Party in the last six weeks and the 'cut and run' option for National strategists is going to look increasingly attractive. For now though they are locked in a death spiral with a volatile ally who is showing little inclination to let them come up for air.  

Journalists everywhere are salivating in excitement at every twist and turn. The rest of us have had a guts full already.         

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