Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Sun sets on Maori Party as voters look further left

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Tariana Turia's retirement opens the door for a new-look Maori Party. Photo / NZ Herald
Tariana Turia's retirement opens the door for a new-look Maori Party. Photo / NZ Herald

Age catches up with all of us. Tariana Turia bowed to that reality on Thursday. Turia was supposed to retire from Parliament before the last election, but with Hone Harawira chasing her party's vote from one side and an emerging Labour Party from the other, she felt she had no choice to see off the threat last year.

In any event, the Maori Party lost the Tai Tonga seat to a political neophyte and Turia and her remaining two colleagues lost a massive chunk of her vote.

Harawira's new Mana Party won almost the same number of votes as the Maori Party to establish itself as the future alternative to Labour in the Maori seats.

In Waiariki, Mana president Annette Sykes came a respectable second to incumbent Te Ururoa Flavell, making it Mana's priority to take the seat at the next election.

Shane Jones should be able to win Tamaki Makaurau off Pita Sharples at a canter.

And I don't think for a minute that the Maori Party can hold Turia's Te Tai Hauauru seat.

The only surprise about Turia's announcement is that her co-leader didn't follow suit. Sharples will be 73 at the next election and doesn't have either the energy or focus to save his seat, let alone his party.

Him not retiring handicaps the party by not allowing the promotion of Flavell into the top spot.

With a new female face to replace Turia, they could at least present themselves as a fresh new look and a potential partner for Labour.

Sharples' comfort with National is just too obvious for anyone to believe they wouldn't back John Key over David Shearer if the Maori Party vote was the decider.

National rates a derisory party vote in the Maori electorates and doesn't even bother to stand candidates. Three out of four of those electors vote for left parties.

With Sharples as senior leader at the next election, the campaign strategy for Labour and Mana is simple.

Their candidates just need to repeat the line that a vote for the Maori Party is a vote for a National-Act government. Once that reality sinks into the subconscious of the electors, the Maori Party is toast.

I've always believed it's important for New Zealand politics to have independent Maori voices in Parliament outside the two main parties.

Common sense and political reality means MPs with a pro-Maori agenda in mainstream parties have to curtail their positions in the interests of the greater good of their party.

The opportunity was that by winning the seven Maori electorates, a Maori-focused party could be the decider in forming governments - whether left or right.

My advice when I was advising the Maori Party in its formation period was to back a Labour-led government when there was a choice.

However, if Labour didn't have the numbers even with its votes then it should opt into a National-led Cabinet. Its constituency would support the strategy, provided it kept its independence and got real gains.

Unfortunately, it achieved neither.

It is seen by enough of the Maori constituency as merely the brown caucus of the National Party.

Turia's reputation and respect was based on leaving the Labour Party to give Maori real political power. The sad irony is she and her two colleagues have become meek apologists for a Government that has Maori statistics worse then when Turia was a minister in the Helen Clark government.

If they had managed the strategy properly they would have all seven Maori seats instead of a tenuous hold on just three. They should rue the day they forced Harawira out.

He was their hope in keeping the door open to Labour while being able to sit in a National government. More importantly, it would have kept both wings of their party together.

Supporters like me then had to choose sides. It's a no-brainer for me. The rise of Labour in recent weeks and the space that Harawira has been able to carve out means the future of the Maori Party is sealed.

Key needed the Maori Party rump to have any chance to be a third-term Prime Minister. This week, that option disappeared.

Debate on this article is now closed.</i>

- Herald on Sunday

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