John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Is the Maori Party now in debt to National?

The trouble is Flavell has accused Harawira of selling out Mana's soul to in return for cash from Kim Dotcom. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The trouble is Flavell has accused Harawira of selling out Mana's soul to in return for cash from Kim Dotcom. Photo / Mark Mitchell

He or she who sups with the Devil needs a long spoon. Or so the old saying goes. The Maori Party was in need of a very, very long spoon when it chose to take advantage of its support-partner relationship with National to use the combination of John Key's popularity and the prestige of the office of PM as the drawcard for a $5000-a-head dinner.

The moot point is who was using who in the fundraising dinner at Auckland's Northern Club earlier this month, in what at first hearing sounded like a belated April Fool's joke.

The Maori Party may have ended up playing a joke on itself and been seen to sell out on both principle and independence. In comparison, so far National emerges from the whole affair without even a scratch.

It remains to be seen, however, whether voters get exercised by National's not infrequent selling to the wealthy of special access to the prime minister in return for donations - the ethics of which frankly stink.

What should matter to the Maori Party is how Maori voters regard the dinner. Some might see it as a clever ploy to use the Establishment to raise money to fight the Establishment.

The great bulk of Maori voters, however, will assume that Key's helping hand with the Maori Party's finances has left the party seriously in debt to National.

They will thus assume the Maori Party is now obliged to back a National-led Government for a third time following September's election.

The net result is that those Maori who wish to see a change of Government will no longer have good reason to vote for the Maori Party. And that is a pretty hefty price for a party to pay. But it is possible to see how the Maori Party could rationalise holding the dinner.

Given that most of its supporters likely struggle to get by financially from week to week and given the competition from Hone Harawira's Mana Party, fund-raising for the Maori Party must be a thankless task.

So the opportunity to make thousands of dollars in one evening would have appeared as a gift-horse in whose mouth it would be silly to look.

No doubt there was an element of ends justifying the means rationalising of the dinner as the Maori Party using the system to beat the system.

And no doubt Tariana Turia, Te Ururoa Flavell and Pita Sharples allowed themselves a wry smile in a Once Were Radicals kind of way that in gaining entry to the inner precincts of the Northern Club, they had penetrated the very walls of a major fortress of the Pakeha Establishment.

The trouble is Flavell has accused Harawira of selling out Mana's soul to in return for cash from Kim Dotcom. It is difficult to spot the difference between that and the Maori Party's dinner.

Moreover, while Act's similarly using of Key to help pay its bills hardly raises an eyebrow, black-tie dinners with the wealthy elite do not sit comfortably with the Maori Party's more proletarian ethic of representing the poor and downtrodden.

But charges of hypocrisy should be the least of the Maori Party's concerns in this case. The abiding perception - whether right or wrong is that the Maori Party has lost its independence and is now little more than National's poodle.

When MMP was introduced nearly two decades ago, opponents of that electoral system warned that the coalition or minority governments which would part and parcel come with it would see the minor party tail endlessly wagging the major party dog.

They could not have been more wrong in the case of National and the Maori Party. The tail has effectively been docked. There is no tail left to wag.

- 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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