John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Sharples' resignation may be too little, too late

Meka Whaitiri, capturing just 42 per cent of the vote compared with the late Parekura Horomia's 61 per cent in 2011. Photo / Warren Buckland
Meka Whaitiri, capturing just 42 per cent of the vote compared with the late Parekura Horomia's 61 per cent in 2011. Photo / Warren Buckland

Pita Sharples' resignation as co-leader of the Maori Party may be too little too late as far as strengthening the party's chances of surviving as a parliamentary force goes.

Sure, it removes the major irritant of disunity at the top of the party. That is assumed to always to be a vote-killer.

The handover of the co-leader's role (almost certainly) to Te Ururoa Flavell, who had made a putative challenge for the job, definitely deals with that problem which cost the party so dearly in last Saturday's Ikaroa-Rawhiti byelection - or supposedly cost it dearly.

In fact, the Maori Party candidate basically did no better or worse than he did in the general election in 2011.

What happened was that the Mana party picked up votes that went to Labour in 2011, thereby leapfrogging the Maori Party and capturing second place from its foe.

The question Sharples and the Maori Party had to ask themselves was why they were not likewise picking up Labour votes.

The disunity created by the squabble between Flavell and Sharples over the co-leadership was only one factor in the Maori Party' failing to do so likewise.

As the party's three MPs acknowledged at Sharples' press conference announcing his resignation, the party gets little recognition for the policy gains it has secured from National for Maori. Instead - at least according to Tariana Turia - Labour perversely receives that credit. The Maori Party needs to be much more assertive in claiming its due.

The other major negative is the party's association with National. Having helped prop up a National-led minority government for close to two parliamentary terms, the Maori Party risks increasingly being painted as little more than a National Party factotum.

As Turia also says, if it is a question of sitting on the side-lines or being a player, however, there is no question which is the better option. But it comes at an awful price which the Maori Party is now discovering.

Sharples, meanwhile, says he will be giving up some of his ministerial responsibilities to the new co-leader before next year's election to boost the latter's authority during the election campaign. The question is why is Sharples leaving it until then when it will be too late to help Flavell very much.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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