Claire Trevett on politics

Claire Trevett is a Herald political writer

Claire Trevett: Harawira's offer doesn't deserve a look in

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Harawira's offer is a cross-breed of Trojan horse and Bigfoot. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Harawira's offer is a cross-breed of Trojan horse and Bigfoot. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Like Eve offering up her apple, Mana leader Hone Harawira dangled a most generous offer before the trouble-clouded eyes of his erstwhile colleagues in the Maori Party.

He issued a press release yesterday in which he declared the Maori Party a dead party walking, a party led by the "old and tired". He then offered up the antidote for its problems: himself.

His proposal involved a merger of the Mana and Maori parties. But there would be rules for any such merger. From his strong position at 0.5 per cent in the polls, Harawira set those out.

The most important was the reason he had given for his departure from the Maori Party to begin with: the National Party. The Maori Party would have to give up its habit of playing with the National Party.

Harawira started by saying unnamed kuia and kaumatua had begged him to go back and take over as leader of the Maori Party. Such a fate, he said, would be akin to being the captain of the Titanic, but, he modestly added, "Maoridom deserves the strong and vibrant leadership that Mana can provide."

There is something almost macabre about the scenario; having done his utmost to get the Maori Party into the intensive care unit, Harawira has put on his quack's white coat and offered to give it the kiss of life.

Harawira's offer is a cross-breed of Trojan horse and Bigfoot, bristling with spears but unlikely to ever happen. It is as much a desperate bid for the survival of the Mana Party as the Maori Party - despite the hoopla that surrounded its launch, Mana has failed to gain traction in the polls and it stands to gain more than the Maori Party from such a deal.

Harawira has timed his proposal for a time when the Maori Party is at its most vulnerable. It is facing its hour of reckoning as its founder Tariana Turia heads into retirement.

Turia would never sanction such a merger, so Harawira has appealed to co-leader Pita Sharples. Sharples has a tendency to say what he thinks people want to hear - and indeed yesterday he said he was open to talks about working together more, but stopped short of agreeing a merger was a good idea.

The trouble is that as well as the specific rules Harawira set out for such a proposal, there was the rule in the subtext: Harawira would only do so if he was the leader.

That would mean Sharples wasn't the leader. It would also mean Te Ururoa Flavell wasn't the leader. And as things transpired, the Maori Party was too busy worrying about which of its current male MPs would be the co-leader to give any thought to the hoof-stomping of the buck trying to make an incursion into the territory.

At the Ratana Pa, Sharples conceded that although there was no formal challenge from Te Ururoa Flavell, his openly stated desire to take over as leader effectively amounted to a challenge.

Sharples was remarkably sanguine about it. He inadvertently quoted from the Australian movie The Castle, saying a decision on whether to stand down would ultimately be down to "the vibe" of it all.

He even pragmatically listed the advantages of both approaches: if he stayed on, it would provide continuity when Turia left in 2014.

Even the Green Party, which has survived two leadership changes, would not be brave enough to change both co-leaders at the same time.

The advantage to Flavell taking over now was that it would give him some time to bed into the role before Turia left and the female leadership also changed hands - or, if the party goes ahead with a change to allow a single leader, Flavell took over in sole charge.

There is no reason the party cannot also allow two male leaders - using the iwi-equality argument in the same way the Green Party uses the gender-equality argument for its male and female leaders.

In the midst of trying to resolve its future leadership problems the last thing the Maori Party needs is to invite another problem back in in the form of Harawira.

On paper, it might make some sense - Mana took about one-third of the Maori Party's votes in the last election. A merger would reunite the protester, activist base with the Maori Party's support base.

But logic does not take account of human nature. The antipathy between the Maori Party MPs and Harawira has not abated since the split.

What the Maori Party most needs is stability.

Harawira could argue that he has proven a stable leader for the Mana Party. Certainly he has stepped up, but it is easy to be united when there is only one of you. There is little that is genuine about Harawira's offer, which seems aimed simply at forcing the Maori Party into a corner so he can accuse them of failing to unite.

It is closer to an attempted coup - it is clear Harawira doesn't want to take over the Maori Party, he wants to turn it into the Mana Party.

Having lobbed his shrapnel-spiked apple, Harawira ended by saying he was happy to discuss the matter. "The ball is in the Maori Party's court."

If it has any sense, the Maori Party won't even raise its racket.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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