Paul Little: Harawira a welcome addition to political scene

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Hone Harawira. Photo / APN
Hone Harawira. Photo / APN

Hone Harawira will be familiar to you as a divisive, Maori radical with a big mouth. That is the picture painted for most New Zealanders by most branches of the media. He is for Osama bin Laden and against Pakeha boyfriends for his daughters.

He forgets to turn up to vote in Parliament on an issue so important that he split from the Maori Party over it. He is tarnished by association with a mother who has a colourful turn of phrase.

It's no surprise that these factors are focused on. They make meaty little anecdotes that bypass the brain and go straight to gut reactions.

What has been missing until now is much serious discussion of what Harawira thinks and believes.

On closer examination he is someone who may provide a much-needed addition to the political scene.

What are the options for Maori politicians now? Precious few. They can go the Tau Henare way.

He's the Billy T. James of politics who has made himself into everybody's uncle, wise-cracking his way through the electoral cycle. But at least he maintains a level of integrity by representing a conservative party with conviction.

Over at the Maori Party, Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia have turned into full-time sidekicks, providing comic relief to John Key's Hugh Grant role.

That they are out of touch became clear when Sharples attacked the newborn Mana Party for being of the left rather than a party for Maori. In doing so he painted Harawira as an inclusive politician - reaching out across cultures to represent everyone who hasn't benefited from cuts in training funding and asset sales.

After years of what Don Brash still regards as "special treatment" for Maori, that part of the population is still over-represented in just about every measure of financial and social ill-health - from poverty and imprisonment rates to drug use and obesity.

A politician who wants to distance himself from compromise, acknowledge these problems and have a go at fixing them is likely to gain wide support.

Harawira is easy to dislike. He has few equals when it comes to strutting and only his political polar opposite, Brash, gets anywhere near exuding the same air of self-importance.

Many will look at Harawira and see a vain, strutting, Gaddafi-like figure who gives the impression of enjoying the attention he gets more than the duties he needs to perform. If he can shake off that image and express a clear vision he could find a broad support base.

So, what is Mana's vision? In the form outlined on its website it has more than enough waffle to persuade any doubters that it is a proper political party.

It's a lot clearer about what it is against than what it is for: "Government is giving tax breaks to the rich, bailing out failed finance companies, selling off our natural resources, turning prisons into private profit ventures, and spending $36 million on a yacht race on the other side of the world, while ordinary New Zealanders are starving, workers are being forced into slavery by the 90-day bill and Maori rights are being drowned in the Raukumara Basin."

As to what Mana would do, that is all a bit vague. If Harawira can express - temperately - a vision for those at the bottom of the heap, he will win votes from them and also from those who aren't struggling but want to see the lot of their fellow New Zealanders improved.

* KERI HULME and Kerre Woodham - did two more different people ever share the same first name?

The attack on Kerre by Keri reported last week was worrying, though not for the views expressed by either woman. What's worrying is that the person who, in the bone people, could write a sentence as beautiful as "He stirs the silvergold hair with one cool finger" now can write something as ugly and abusive as "I think you are maybe thinking you are someone important, and saying something relevant."

Due to a number of inappropriate posts, the comment feature has been turned off this blog.

- Herald on Sunday

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