While Labour is taking heart from its refreshed ties with the Ratana Church, Prime Minister John Key's assured performance at the movement's annual celebrations yesterday suggests he is confident National's relationship with the Maori Party remains sound.
The gathering also saw Maori Party leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples downplaying the apparent rift between them and Te Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira.
In the first major setpiece of election year, leaders and MPs of the major political parties were hosted at Ratana Pa, south of Wanganui, as the church celebrated the birthday of its founder, Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana, who forged an enduring relationship with the Labour Party in the 1930s.
After what Labour MP Shane Jones yesterday said was "something of a disaster" for Labour at Ratana last year, party leader Phil Goff was well received by church elders.
He reminded the crowd of his party's shared history with Ratana and pointed to a fresh crop of Labour candidates with Ratana credentials, including Manurewa candidate Louisa Wall and Soraya Peke-Mason, who is challenging Mrs Turia in the Te Tai Hauauru electorate this year.
Mr Jones believed that resonated particularly well with church leaders.
Church secretary Adrian Rurawhe said Ratana chairman Waaka Paamer's response "has given encouragement to the Labour Party and, in particular, the Maori members that are standing for Parliament this year".
Arriving a couple of hours after Labour, Mr Key and the National Party delegation walked on to the marae, with Maori Party MPs Dr Sharples and Te Ururoa Flavell in a show of unity, and he began his speech with two minutes of te reo.
He went on to speak of gains for Maori under his coalition with the Maori Party, particularly his Government's undertaking to guarantee Maori the right to try to assert their ownership of the foreshore and seabed in the courts.
With the Government continuing to sell its foreshore and seabed solution in coming months, Mr Key said it would not find favour with every New Zealander.
However, in the Coastal and Marine Areas (Takutai Moana) Bill "I believe we have within our grasp the opportunity to make change for the better".
In a response to Mr Harawira's criticism of the Maori Party's coalition with National and its current direction, Mr Key said the National Party had worked with the Maori Party to bring the voice of Maori "strongly into the Government".
"In my view, the successes of that relationship have been manifold.
"I say to the critics, 'What can you achieve from opposition?' and the answer is nothing. You achieve things when you are part of the solution, not when you are solely carping on about the problems."
Speaking afterwards, Dr Sharples said he supported the Prime Minister's message. In opposition "while we did awaken a lot of issues, we never really achieved too much".
He downplayed the significance of Mr Harawira's absence from Ratana yesterday, saying he had been there the day before.
Dr Sharples said his relationship with Mr Harawira was in good heart and any perceived rift was merely "happening in the media".By Adam Bennett Email Adam