Maori see limited choices in Labour leader candidates

By Yvonne Tahana

Shane Jones (right) and Nanaia Mahuta are looking for Labour leadership roles. Photos / File
Shane Jones (right) and Nanaia Mahuta are looking for Labour leadership roles. Photos / File

Many leaders in Maoridom say they're surprised at Nanaia Mahuta's and Shane Jones' bids to become deputy leaders of the the Labour Party.

Ms Mahuta's run on David Cunliffe's ticket is viewed as left-field, and while she has some support from Maori politicos who believe she's a hard working MP others say she has next to no cross-over appeal for non-Maori.

Political commentator Sandra Lee, a former Alliance MP, backs the Hauraki-Waikato MP, who has been an MP since 1996.

"She keeps her own counsel and she's not a person who sets out in life, unlike some of the blokes, to make enemies.

"She'd have a lot to contribute. These days the trend seems to be that they look for boy/girl in party line-ups - so why not a Maori woman and why not a young Maori woman who's been there a long time and brings with her a massive support block from her own iwi?"

Her tribal affiliations to the Kingitanga also give her other skills, Ms Lee said.

"When you're born and bred in the Kingitanga you come from a long line of diplomats of necessity because you represent a broad range, so yes, I do think she'd do it well."

Waikato-Tainui's Te Arataura executive chairman Tuku Morgan said he was delighted with the bid which had taken him by surprise. However, Ms Mahuta, 41, may need to think about standing in a general seat to broaden her appeal, he said.

Political scientist Dr Maria Bargh said Ms Mahuta hadn't worked up much of a public image, but she was "down to earth" and the party had recognised her value by promoting her to the front bench.

John Tamihere, who was often touted as the country's first Maori Prime Minister before he fell out with his former party, said he didn't think the Cunliffe/Mahuta ticket or any of the MPs who have put their hands up to lead would appeal to voters.

"What I'd say is: the girl's got pluck."

But political pundit Matt McCarten said no one would have picked Ms Mahuta for leadership duties.

"I don't think she's a mover and shaker. I think she's a bit pedestrian to be honest, she's not a great communicator and that's why people know very little about her."

The Cunliffe pairing looked convenient, he said.

"It's a bit patronising. There's an element that she's been put up to make a ticket look good, it's part of Labour's problem. They kind of tick boxes instead of using people who are hungry and keen."

Both Ms Mahuta and Mr Jones had a born to rule air about them and he wondered if Mr Jones had the work ethic needed for the role.

"If I had to pick between the two, it'd be Shane by a country mile. He's intellectual, he's honest.

"He is clearly a talent but he hasn't given any indication in recent months that his heart's been in it," Mr McCarten said.

Northern tribal leader Sonny Tau from Ngapuhi, a neighbouring iwi to Mr Jones' Te Aupouri, said he wished Mr Jones had made a run for leader.

"He's streaks ahead of anybody else in that caucus. His talents, his leadership potential are being stymied by redneck politics - the Labour Party doesn't have any leaning towards anything Maori. Shane is a victim of that."

"His most helpful role for Labour is to be their leader - there's too many dry balls debaters. You need fullas with a wicked sense of humour. There's two things with Shane: you either love him or you hate him, he pulls no punches."

Ngai Takoto and Te Aupouri kuia Myra Berghan said there was no question Far North iwi backed Mr Jones.

- NZ Herald

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