Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Here's why the media demonise Harawira

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Hone Harawira. Photo / Janna Dixon
Hone Harawira. Photo / Janna Dixon

I wasn't going to write about Hone Harawira this week, given my conflict of interest as the chairman of the Mana Party's working group.

But you're all grown up and there's no doubt that the Don and Hone show is the only political story in town.

Until this week, this country was sleepwalking to the most boring election ever.

We knew the election date; we knew John Key was going to wallop Phil Goff; we knew that Labour was campaigning to come in second place.

The Greens would come in third and Rodney Hide would slip into Epsom to allow a handful of his colleagues to get through.

The Maori Party would come through with possibly three MPs, followed by Harawira and Peter Dunne holding their seats.

The only question was whether John Key's National Party was going to be able to rule alone.

The cliche that a week is a long time in politics is a cliche because it's true. The political landscape has been energised with a new party of the left led by Harawira and a revitalised party of the right under Brash.

The contrast couldn't be wider. There was effectively a right-wing corporate takeover of Act by a moneyed cartel. It's breathtakingly cynical that three MPs, who all owe their parliamentary seats to Rodney Hide, ended his career by supporting a 70-year-old non-MP. As a consequence, someone not in Parliament will tell the Prime Minister who will be in his Cabinet. The people in Epsom who elected Hide as their electorate MP are hapless bystanders.

In contrast, Harawira last Saturday launched a new party and sought a mandate from his constituents. The twittering press hacks who wrote breathlessly about Brash's coup went into fits of faux outrage over the cost of a Tai Tokerau byelection.

I'd be more sympathetic if they managed the same outburst as guardians of the public purse when Helen Clark and Winnie Laban dumped their electorates, forcing byelections, because they got better job offers elsewhere.

In Mt Albert we had various parties' list MPs (Melissa Lee, John Boscawen and Russel Norman - none of whom were locals) running for the job, all the while collecting salaries and parliamentary perks during the campaign with help from assorted taxpayer-funded staff.

The argument that there is only seven months until the election is phony. The bigger parties set the rule that any MP who left their party should seek a new mandate up to six months from the election day. The voters of Te Atatu would have liked a by-election when Chris Carter was pushed out of his party.

In fact it seems outrageous to me as a citizen that deposed Act leader Hide does not go back to the voters of Epsom for a new mandate. Hide should either run as an independent or accept his ousting and allow Act to stand either Brash or John Banks.

Instead, a sordid little deal has been done in which Hide agrees to go quietly on the basis he keeps his baubles and rank of Cabinet minister for the rest of the year. Principled politics? I don't think so.

There are clear personal agendas by some Press Gallery hacks in Wellington to demonise Harawira. However, the real reason for the different slants on Harawira and Brash is that most political journalists are creatures of the system and have no idea of politics outside of Parliament. They are threatened by any change to their cosy relationship with current parliamentary press officers, from whom they get their stories.

Whether we agree with them or not, Harawira and Brash offer clear visions of the future. National and Labour are so grey it's hard to tell the difference between them.

The Act and Mana parties will excite the electorate in a way we have not seen since the 1980s. It would be helpful if the mainstream media and the other parties catch up with what is happening.

- NZ Herald

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