MPs bring politics on to the marae at Ratana - starting with a lapel badge

Veterans of the January visit to Ratana know the two key rules: take sunscreen and a hat.

Yesterday was no exception. The sun beat down. MPs with bald spots reached for the hats. Andrew Little had a snappy hat but foolishly wore a black suit. NZ First leader Winston Peters took refuge in a tree, from where he quoted Noel Coward: "only fools and Englishmen go out in the midday sun".

The third rule, to not get too political, was well and truly broken this year, despite being hosted on the Sabbath.

Predictions of mass protests were unfounded, which was not surprising given the vibe at Ratana is almost the opposite of that at Waitangi on February 5. Ratana is peace and manaakitanga, Te Tii is fire and brimstone. But the first sign politics would not be checked in at the gate came on the Prime Minister's lapel: a pin featuring the blue and black silver fern flag: John Key's choice for the March referendum.

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On the marae, NZ First leader Peters was not going to waste his time with any pretence about leaving politics out of it. He made an unashamed pitch for votes. He told them people could be forgiven for thinking politicians were like used car salesmen, - "Plenty of pre-sales talk. No after sales delivery."

He said there was a solution to that. "Get on the roll and buy yourselves some insurance. You know which party that is ... New Zealand First."

And despite saying earlier in the day that he didn't want to be "over religious" about interpreting one of prophet Ratana's predictions as relating to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he took a sudden turn to the religious once he was before the faithful. At one point, he assured them if they voted NZ First they would be doing "God's work". He finished by getting the crowd to repeatedly chant after him: "Amen to the Ratana Movement."

Peters was not the only one guilty of bringing politics onto Ratana. Much of Key's speech was dedicated to rebutting Labour leader Andrew Little's speech and defending the Trans-Pacific Partnership - an exercise that prompted a rare bout of booing at the marae.

Labour MPs arrived with stickers boasting of the 80-year alliance between Labour and Ratana.

Little announced Labour was extending its policy of offering to pay the equivalent of the dole to employers who took on apprentices from the ranks of the unemployed.

James Shaw launched a Green Party petition to stop the compulsory acquisition of Maori land under the Public Works Act.

Little was also left to explain his comments last year about Ratana being a "beauty parade" although watching yesterday's performances showed it was not necessarily inaccurate.

Until last year, Government and Opposition MPs have been welcomed on separately.

But now they are taken on to the marae in one big dysfunctional family. It would be paradise for David Attenborough.

Watching the politicians in front of foe and friend was akin to watching peacocks in the mating dance, fluffing their tail feathers and alternating between wooing their audience and attacking their rivals.