Matt McCarten on politics
Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Hats off to Harawira for honourable choice

Hone Harawira did the correct thing to resign and seek a new mandate. Photo / Janna Dixon
Hone Harawira did the correct thing to resign and seek a new mandate. Photo / Janna Dixon

This time next week we will know whether Hone Harawira's risk in resigning his seat in Parliament paid off. If he is returned then he has a mandate and if he isn't then his parliamentary career comes to an end - for six months, anyway.

If Harawira isn't successful I'll have to take some flak. That's because when he was asked to leave the Maori Party, I advised him that he had to seek a new mandate. No matter the outcome, it was still the correct and principled thing for Harawira to resign and go back to his voters.

I've always resented MPs who change parties during a term of parliament then claim they can still keep their jobs. They shouldn't.

It was the same advice I gave to Tariana Turia when she resigned from parliament to form the Maori Party.

Maybe I have an aversion to creeps who keep their seats because when I was Alliance president one of our MPs, Alamein Kopu, jumped ship and gave Jenny Shipley a one-seat majority.

This was after several senior NZ First MPs betrayed Winston Peters and swapped sides.

I imagine those recent chatterers who hollered outrage would have agreed with me at the time when I was demanding that Tau Henare and his fellow opportunists should go back to their electorates for a new mandate.

As I said in this column several weeks ago, I believe Chris Carter and Rodney Hide should have had to go to by-elections after they were dumped by their parties. It's called accountability to your electors.

There is something honourable about an MP putting their job on the line when they no longer belong to the party they were elected to. Harawira would lack any integrity by forming a new party and keeping the job he won as a Maori Party candidate.

The good money is still on Harawira winning his seat. As someone closely associated with Harawira's campaign, he has far more campaigners on the ground and, until this week, indicative polling showed him well ahead.

However, a poll commissioned by Maori Television showed that the campaign was now neck-and-neck between Labour's Kelvin Davis and Harawira. That result has breathed life into Labour's campaign. Harawira and Davis' supporters will be working their butts off until Saturday - as they should.

Both sides know there is a lot at stake. If Davis wins, they will be odds-on favourite to take all the other Maori seats from the Maori Party at the general election. And even if Labour loses the seat to Harawira, they know his party will support Labour over National anyway.

I was surprised when the Maori Party broke its non-aggression electoral agreement with Harawira and stood a candidate against him. Its candidate, Solomon Tipene, is inexperienced and it shows. The Maori Party vote has collapsed and transferred to Harawira. Tipene remains a distant third, with no hope of catching up.

But the key to next Saturday's by-election will be whether that remaining Maori Party vote swings to Harawira or not. If it does Harawira romps home. If not, the election night will be a nail-biter.

Even Prime Minister John Key has got into the act. National was initially rooting for the Maori Party but, now it has no chance, Key told Willy Jackson and John Tamihere that he was supporting Davis.

It reminds me of when the Alliance Party ran its first by-election campaign in 1991. Labour and National worked together to keep us out. On election night, Helen Clark went to National's post-election party to congratulate it on defeating us. It seems things haven't changed much. When there's a true independent voice, the two big parties aren't beyond colluding.

Maybe the naysayers are right. We are allowed to have Maori in Parliament as long as they behave themselves. On Saturday, the people of Tai Tokerau will let us know Harawira's future. That's how it should be.

- NZ Herald

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