Claire Trevett 's Opinion

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Tamihere capable of rising above messy past

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John Tamihere cold-shouldered by Helen Clark in 2005, is said to be keen to challenge for the seat of Paula Bennett in 2014. Photo / APN
John Tamihere cold-shouldered by Helen Clark in 2005, is said to be keen to challenge for the seat of Paula Bennett in 2014. Photo / APN

If you want someone to argue against former Labour MP John Tamihere making it back into Parliament, look elsewhere.

For if Planet Key has its own idylls in rolling greens and toilet-free climes, on Planet Media, utopia would be Tau Henare as the Speaker and John Tamihere back on the Labour benches.

What a cornucopia of quotable delights would be on offer.

Other less likely souls have made political comebacks, albeit usually ill-fated. John Banks is the most recent and before that was Roger Douglas. Less dramatically, it is relatively common for MPs to be voted out and then return - although the absence is usually one term rather than three.

Annette King, Trevor Mallard, Phil Goff all had voter-enforced sabbaticals in the 1990s. Indeed, several MPs cast out in 2011 are also hoping to return in 2014, including Carmel Sepuloni and Stuart Nash.

It is true Tamihere is not the bright-faced beacon of promise that he was when he first stood for Labour in 1999 and just three years later was appointed to the Cabinet.

These days, it can be hard to see the actual pages through the messy blots on his copybook. As well as that "front bum" interview with Investigate's Ian Wishart, there was the Waipareira Trust golden handshake and allegations and investigations into that trust, on which Tamihere was cleared.

There were the abandoned cats and the historic drink-driving convictions.

But Tamihere is like a well-mixed mojito: both sweet and sour. At 53, he is still young enough to pull off a phoenix rising. Balancing out the controversy, it has to be acknowledged he has managed to turn the Waipareira Trust into an established and trusted social services force in West Auckland.

He has inhabited a place all too rarely visited by politicians: the real world.

Normally, that hands-on experience in putting government policy into practice at a grassroots level would make him a valuable asset for Labour, which too often gets criticism for selecting its candidates from academia, unions or political offices.

There is another problem for Labour which he could help rectify - the erosion of the Maori caucus. Parekura Horomia, Shane Jones and Nanaia Mahuta have all mumbled about futures outside politics. Such an exodus would leave the Maori caucus short on numbers, and experience. Former MP Kelvin Davis is a great hope but is uncertain whether he wants to return to Parliament. Tamihere's return could help plug a gap.

However, there is the issue of Carmel Sepuloni, who in 2011 came within nine votes of toppling Paula Bennett out of the Waitakere electorate Tamihere now covets. Many believe she should be given another chance.

Tamihere's first hurdle, however, is to persuade Labour he has learned to peg back what he described as "a free and independent spirit" in 2005, but others might see as pure trouble.

Labour is a different party from the one he left in 2005, and its leadership is more tolerant, both of Tamihere's own political position and his character type.

The renaissance of Damien O'Connor despite his talk of gaggles of gays and self-serving unionists is evidence of that. But the left still holds great sway - and politically, Tamihere foxtrots on the margins of Genghis Khan's beliefs.

It is hard not to like John Tamihere, for much the same reasons it is hard to dislike Shane Jones. Both share a quick wit, and are endowed with - or plagued by - a sense of outspoken mischief that simultaneously delights and horrifies.

Of those Tamihere individually abused - Helen Clark, Chris Carter, Steve Maharey - only Clayton Cosgrove remains and he is hardly a hand-wringing liberal himself.

But there is still a level of mistrust, and some believe that in the seven years since, Tamihere has achieved only one of the two goals of being "older and wiser".

On that front, admittedly, Tamihere may not have done himself any favours by going into talkback radio. The frenzied, realms of talkback are not considered the best places in which to undertake a political rehabilitation. Tamihere has not held his punches when discussing Labour on his RadioLive radio show.

Tamihere will have to explain away some of those moments - and he has already begun, telling his co-host Willie Jackson that it was part of the job to pander to the crowd with outrageous comments.

However, it has ensured he maintained a public profile. It is that which will mean Labour has to give serious consideration to letting him back into the fold. Labour will have to weigh up whether Tamihere might be what it takes to tip the Waitakere seat back into the party's hands.

The change in Labour's selection processes will give local party members much more say in who is selected and that could give Sepuloni the edge: she has the most recent links with the party's organisation and membership in the electorate.

Tamihere could take it - but he'll have to rattle his dags if he is to recruit as many local members to his cause as possible.

- NZ Herald

Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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