Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Real meat ignored for same old Waitangi fare

John Key, Titewhai Harawira and Naida Glavish (partly obscured) and Ani Taurua coming onto Te Tii Marae after much negotiation. Photo / Michael Cunningham
John Key, Titewhai Harawira and Naida Glavish (partly obscured) and Ani Taurua coming onto Te Tii Marae after much negotiation. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Civil war was narrowly averted at Waitangi this week.

As you'll know by breathless media reports, the old battle-axe Titewhai Harawira took the country to the brink of disaster just as the Prime Minister and other dignitaries were about to arrive at the lower Waitangi marae.

Every year the old matriarch manages to turn up in all her glory to drape herself on to the arm of the prime minister of the day, in addition to other party leaders who are forced to walk the gauntlet at Waitangi.

This year, the marae trustees had a secret plan to finally put an end to her. Moments before John Key's arrival, a trustee delegation informed Harawira that she was out of the escort business.

Instead, a relation of the chairman would get the honour of accompanying the Prime Minister.

The emaciated old biddy on crutches is physically frail, but her spine is still reinforced steel. Harawira wasn't having a bar of it and wouldn't move from the marae entrance.

She was called an old bitch.

She told the chairman to shut his mouth.

The crowd hushed. The waka paddlers fidgeted with their weapons. Tension filled the air. The media froze in rapturous expectation. Waitangi Day once again was looking good for ratings.

The Prime Minister was rushed to safety by an armed posse and rumours spread that the crew of the navy frigate anchored offshore for the next day's celebrations were put on high alert.

I was hoping they were fixing bayonets in case they were needed for an invasion. Now that would be a Waitangi Day experience.

Naida Glavish was rushed in to separate the warring factions and negotiate through the impasse. Some of you will remember Glavish as the young girl umpteen years ago who was sacked from the old post office for welcoming customers with "kia ora" instead of the English equivalent.

Anxious minutes ticked by. The Prime Minister, from his armoured-plated limousine, whimpered that he'd go with any escort that wanted him.

Someone told Hone Harawira to sort his mother out. He rolled his eyes as if to say "as if that's possible".

Finally the young paddlers in the welcome ceremony waiting in the sun said they were leaving for a swim if it wasn't sorted.

Glavish suggested in desperation that both women do it together. The trustees blinked. The matriarch smiled sweetly, suggesting Glavish insert herself between the two rivals to ensure harmony.

Orders were issued. The crowd rose. The media clicked and whirled.

Forty minutes late the government entourage disembarked at the gate. The Queen of Waitangi took her guest's arm.

The media went into apoplexy. They were promised that Harawira was going to get her just desserts. Instead, she held everything up until she got her way. It was unthinkable - and genius.

It wasn't as good theatre as a lump of dirt hitting Don Brash, or Helen Clark being reduced to tears, but it was enough for the media to get the masses outside Waitangi in a frenzy.

When Key slunk back to the local flash hotel among his own, he huffed in a speech that he'd had enough of protesters ruining our national day.

In fact, the only protest at Waitangi this year was a peaceful march of several hundred against domestic violence.

But then Key's also the man who can't remember what he thought as a young man about protests against apartheid or nuclear ships - although he's happy to take credit on the international stage for the reputation New Zealand now enjoys because of those stands.

In the same speech the Prime Minister proposed that pesky elections be held less often. The leaders of the other parties fell over themselves to agree. Who says there's no unity at Waitangi? Media coverage was sparse on this little doosey.

A story of two old ladies clawing for John Key's arm is deemed far more newsworthy than threats against our democracy? Maybe the creators of Seven Sharp are on to something after all.

- Herald on Sunday

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