Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Far right sneaked new party in under radar

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Hone Harawira. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Hone Harawira. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The media have been pestering me and other lefties for several months about our apparent cunning plan to launch a new left party before the election.

However it's the far right that has got off the blocks first by announcing on Thursday the launch of the Reform Party.

With the honourable exception of my fellow columnist Deborah Coddington, the pre-launch manoeuvring for a right-wing party was mostly missed by the media - or maybe they just weren't interesting enough.

Unfortunately for them, because of John Key's popularity (and despite Act being dysfunctional) I can't see them getting anywhere near the 5 per cent threshold they need to get MPs. The rumour mill says former National Party leader Don Brash has had several meetings to discuss leading a new right-wing party but even a heavy hitter like him won't be enough.

Meanwhile on our side of the political divide I've had a couple of chats over coffee with Sue Bradford about the state of the left.

I've known and respected Bradford for years going back to 1989 when I was founding president of the New Labour Party and she was vice-president.

Since then both of us have been involved in organising new projects and we know how bloody tortuous it is to build political movements from nothing.

I can't think of a more effective backbencher than Bradford. She got a record three private members' bills passed into law. My favourites were abolishing the discriminatory youth wage and, of course, the anti-smacking bill.

I was disappointed when she quit Parliament after not being elected as the Greens co-leader. I did respect her for not remaining in a cushy job collecting a big salary when she felt she couldn't win her sort of politics under the Green umbrella.

But, to be fair to the Greens, they are the most progressive party on any policy you'd like to mention and they remain the default party for the left. I've given them my party vote for the past two elections.

Whether Bradford will put her hand up to help lead a new movement to represent working people - employed and unemployed - remains to be seen. I know she has been inundated, particularly with young people trying to convince her to step up.

Sometimes I have wondered whether the younger people care about politics. But having the next generation leaders like cultural firebrand "Bomber" Bradbury passionately leading the charge for a smart new left party does make my heart beat enthusiastically and gives me confidence for the future.

My only caution is whether this year there's enough other staunchies out there. If there was I'd have no hesitation in helping.

In terms of the current players, Labour has undoubtedly rebranded itself as a progressive social democratic party. And if you don't mind accepting unfettered capitalism and keeping the fundamentals of Rogernomics then that's the party for you.

Alternatively, Greens leader Russel Norman has produced his party's policy blueprint and it is in my opinion the best policy alternative to current orthodoxy I've ever seen by a parliamentary party.

Of course the real politics being played out is in the Maori Party. Superficially it's about whether Hone Harawira will behave himself or not. But it's actually more serious than that.

It's a clear case of class politics crashing into Maori politics. Can a party really be primarily about ethnicity and ignore class politics? It cannot.

Having Maori Party MPs lining up with a right-wing Government that puts the boot into the poor - which of course includes many Maori - is a heated conflict at boiling point.

Because of my personal relationship with Harawira and Bradford, political commentators logically start making the connection that the three of us might link up in some sort of political entity.

What they miss is that Harawira's role in life is to be a hard-ass advocate for Maori rights in our country, whether mainstream likes it or not.

The left, the Greens and Maori advocates are natural allies and we should work closely together. But we aren't the same thing and shouldn't pretend we are.

- Herald on Sunday

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