After meeting with the iwi chairs forum last week in Waitangi, Bill English said iwi would be falling over themselves to host Waitangi Day events in future years - and after yesterday's success, he is probably right.

Who wouldn't want the Prime Minister to come calling and say fine things about them, their generosity, their constructive work, their commitment to their people and region.

But it was clear from his various speeches in Auckland yesterday - and the diverse guest list - is that he is trying to make Waitangi Day a day that Pakeha New Zealanders can take pride in as well for what it says about "the New Zealand way."

It may be attempt to inoculate against election year attempts by politicians to make mileage out of the treaty.

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English is also trying to prepare the country for a post-settlement Treaty of Waitangi era in which the role of iwi is evolving and no one is quite sure where it will lead.

Without knowing the outcome, English is trying to establish confidence in the process.

In his speech to Ngati Whatua, he talked about the highly disciplined working relationship that the iwi chairs forum has developed with Government and the confidence each has that they can work hard issues through.

Labour however has opened up a fresh front against iwi leadership in its decision to entice urban leader Willie Jackson to its ranks.

Jackson and Labour's motivation is that most iwi have close relationships with its arch enemy, the Maori Party.

We may be long past the days of Winston Peters talking about the "Brown Table" elites - so 1990s.

But what has become clear is that the influence of iwi leaders, especially post- treaty settlement iwi, are becoming a new battleground this election.