The to-ing and fro-ing about whether the Mana and Maori parties will come together as one has become a regular fixture on the political version of Deal or No Deal.

Much like the equally obvious answer to the question whether the Green Party will work with National, the answer is usually no.

That is for good reason.

They split up in acrimonious fashion and despite Hone Harawira's insistence his door is always open, the condition to entry is for the Maori Party to take a vow of abstinence from National.

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The Maori Party firmly believes it should govern with whichever of the major parties is in power at any given time.

Then there is the question of personality. Harawira is yet to master second fiddle in any orchestra.

Former NZ First MP Tukoroirangi Morgan is in the mix now as Maori Party president.

Nor is Morgan the only former politician from another party sniffing around the Maori Party's porch.

Former Labour MP John Tamihere is also now involved with the Maori Party. Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell is hardly a pushover either.

None are small personalities.

But this time there are some differences in the debate.

One is Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox. The second is reality: both parties are on the verge of extinction.

A pragmatic deal has become a matter of survival.

So far the talks have consisted of two coffee outings.

Morgan has been credited by some as the main driving force although it was Fox who started things.

Fox does not have the history with Harawira that Flavell and the former co-leaders, Dame Tariana Turia and Sir Pita Sharples, have.

Nor does she have the history with the National Party.

There is no talk of a merger and nor is it likely. But neither side is ruling out deals to try to secure seats from Labour.

Maori Party President Tukoroirangi Morgan says the parties should focus on the common enemy: Labour.
Maori Party President Tukoroirangi Morgan says the parties should focus on the common enemy: Labour.

Whether the Maori Party offers an electoral deal will depend on the candidate it gets for the Te Tai Tokerau seat. It is sceptical about whether Harawira could take the seat back even with any help.

But to provide help could secure it a contra deal in a seat such as Te Tai Hauauru where high profile Howie Tamati hopes to stand or Tamaki Makaurau where former TVNZ presenter Shane Taurima is likely to seek selection.

It could also be needed to ward off Labour taking Flavell's own Waiariki electorate.

Both parties would still stand candidates but make it clear to their supporters they only wanted the party vote.

It sounds relatively simple. After all, National and Act do it. Labour and the Greens want to do it. If you can't beat them, join them.

There is a complicating factor.

The Maori Party has long neglected its party vote.

Fox is a List MP and unlikely to win Ikaroa-Rawhiti from Labour's Meka Whaitiri - a seat the Maori Party could not win even at the height of its powers.

Every seat the Maori Party picks up makes it harder for Fox to return to Parliament on the list.

If Fox does broker a deal to secure the future of the party she could end up the biggest loser of it.