Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Crash! Another Maori PM hope trips and falls

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Hekia Parata has shown misjudgment and carelessness over her education plan. Photo / Greg Bowker
Hekia Parata has shown misjudgment and carelessness over her education plan. Photo / Greg Bowker

Until this week, Hekia Parata was on the way to becoming New Zealand's first Maori Prime Minister.

She presents well and lacks any self-doubt. Having that old strategic master, Wira Gardiner, as her husband and confidante doesn't hurt, either.

There had been three other contenders, all probably more deserving. Fortunately for her, they each sabotaged themselves.

Winston Peters would have been a shoo-in for the National Party leadership, but he couldn't wait for Jim Bolger to retire. Eventually his colleagues expelled him for promoting himself to an adoring audience at their expense.

It must have galled Peters watching helplessly as Jenny Shipley, an inferior politician on every level, rolled Bolger and took the job which was rightfully his.

Peters will be odds-on to take the deputy prime ministership once again after the next election, whoever wins, but there must be many nights he contemplates, what if?

The impressive talent and charisma of John Tamihere were obvious from the start. If he'd stuck around, the Labour leadership would have dropped into his lap when Phil Goff vacated it.

While Tamihere is one of the smartest intellects around, he has a bad habit of saying whatever he is thinking. His sense of humour is cutting at best, but it's fatal to advancement when dealing with sensitive egos within a caucus.

It was typical that he took his name off the Labour list, forcing an all-or-nothing campaign against Pita Sharples. Unfortunately for him, the tide was out for Labour and Tamihere was swamped by the Maori Party tsunami.

Much of the "blokey" working class went with him and has stayed away. Some of the smarter operators are trying to woo him back into the fold, hoping that constituency will return to Labour.

So the Peters and Tamihere political stories may not quite be finished, but our fourth contender's is.

Shane Jones is arguably the smartest brain in Parliament. Whether it's arrogance or he has a blind spot, he has undone himself.

He was the great brown hope, good with people, respected in boardrooms and in the media. He could move between the Maori and Pakeha worlds with ease.

But his judgment over misusing his government credit card was astonishing. Jones humbly accepted his demotion. But you got a sense his heart went out of politics and hasn't returned, even after David Shearer rehabilitated him to the front bench.

Jones' approving citizenship for someone with questions over their character, after being advised not to, smells.

The best he can now hope for is that the impending inquiry clears him.

I wouldn't be surprised that whatever the result, he will give the political game away and resign. Unlike many of his fellow parliamentarians, he'd make a better living outside without the aggro.

Parata's mishandling of her education plan this week showed a misjudgment we haven't seen before. She seems out of her depth and, for the first time, we can question her competence.

Trying to spin to parents that having fewer teachers at their children's school will not affect their education is not going to wash.

Her not knowing that some schools would lose up to seven teachers was careless.

Private schools are now marketing to prospective parents that they have a better-quality education because they have fewer students in their classes - because the Government has increased their funding.

The powerful teacher unions are now in sync with the public mood, parents, trustees and school principals.

This is her moment.

Whatever she does will define her for the rest of her political career. If she loses, as I'm sure she will, another Maori contender for the top job crashes.

Eventually someone with Maori blood will be Prime Minister, but the two surviving front runners appear to have crashed this week.

- Herald on Sunday

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