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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Little joy for Labour, worse news for Maori parties

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Meka Whaitiri, capturing just 42 per cent of the vote compared with the late Parekura Horomia's 61 per cent in 2011. Photo / Warren Buckland
Meka Whaitiri, capturing just 42 per cent of the vote compared with the late Parekura Horomia's 61 per cent in 2011. Photo / Warren Buckland

David Shearer's claim that Labour pulled off an "outstanding" victory in Saturday's Ikaroa-Rawhiti byelection is hogwash. For a safe Labour seat, the win was very much in the realm of the ordinary and the predictable.

Allowing for special votes and the low turnout - a miserable 36 per cent, compared with nearly 60 per cent at the last general election - Labour's majority has more or less halved.

Labour can take no joy from its candidate, Meka Whaitiri, capturing just 42 per cent of the vote compared with the late Parekura Horomia's 61 per cent in 2011.

Whaitiri's 1700-plus majority, however, is sufficient for now to stop caucus wolves baying for Shearer's head, although the pressure is still on him to lift his game regardless.

The margin of the victory is insufficient for Labour to be able to proclaim that the byelection marks the beginning of some kind of renaissance in its fortunes.

The result merely holds the line.

The good news for Labour was Mana pushing the Maori Party into third place. That places a further question mark over whether the Maori Party will return enough MPs to Parliament at next year's election to help John Key stay in power.

The biggest loser from the byelection is thus potentially the party which did not stand a candidate - National.

Rather than being the work of Labour's "formidable machine" running a "fantastic" campaign - as Shearer also claimed - the result is the product of the current tragedy in Maori politics.

At first glance, Mana would seem to be the real byelection winner, having lifted its vote from 14 per cent to close to 25 per cent.

More crucially, however, the combined vote of Mana and the Maori Party was larger than Labour's total.

All that the two Maori parties achieved in Ikaroa-Rawhiti was to split the non-Labour vote to neither's advantage.

Understandably nervous about his own parliamentary future, which hangs on a majority in his Te Tai Tokerau seat of little more than 1100, Hone Harawira has renewed his call for Mana and the Maori Party to work more closely.

The Maori Party's Pita Sharples did not rule out the possibility of co-operation. But neither did he show any real enthusiasm for the idea.

To thwart Labour, both parties would have to agree to an electoral accommodation that saw them not stand against each other in some, if not all, of the seven Maori seats.

That will require some difficult-to-reach compromises. However, the survival of some kind of political force representing Maori in Parliament is ultimately at stake.

On their current course, the Maori Party and Mana are locked together in what amounts to a suicide pact.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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