Personalities always loom large over Maori politics, but the latest internal struggles played out at Ratana over the past few days reflect more than just personal political ambitions. The tensions reflect, according to Morgan Godfery, 'deep dysfunction within the parliamentary and party wings' compounded by an 'anaemic caucus and a debilitated membership' - see his blogpost Trouble in the Maori Party: Act I. Pita Sharples' isolation from Tariana Turia and Te Ururoa Flavell is a growing problem says Godfery, not helped by Flavell's drive - assisted by President Pem Bird - to become leader. He warns 'Te Ururoa's reckless ambition already led to the creation of the Mana Party, he must be careful not to let it lead to a death warrant for the Maori Party' - see: Quick comments on a Mana Maori Party. Ex-Te Tai Tonga MP Rahui Katene has joined in with a bid for both co-leader and Turia's Te Tai Hauauru electorate - see TV3's Flavell, Katene want Maori Party co-leadership.
While Maori politics is often played out more publicly than the pakeha version, the Maori Party's political management has for a long time been little short of disastrous, particularly since Pem Bird took over the president's role. To have a leadership challenge spill out at the annual Ratana gathering, surrounded by the assembled press gallery and political foes, is simply incompetent.
Mana leader Hone Harawira may have actually forced it all out in the open by claiming that Maori Party members in Te Tai Tokerau want him to lead a unified movement. That could be dismissed easily (and quickly was by Turia and Flavell) but Sharples' response that the two parties should be talking about a merger and that 'it's a bit silly to have two Maori-kind of parties' - see Newswire's Harawira 'dictatorship' unwelcome - Turia would have raised the paranoia levels up several notches.
Claire Trevett writes that such a merger is very unlikely given the antipathy, and that Harawira would just add to their problems rather than solving them - see: Harawira's offer doesn't deserve a look in. She says that what the Maori Party needs most is stability, which is undoubtedly true right now, but ignores the basic political pressures causing the ructions. It is always much easier for parties to appear unified and focused when the polls are good and careers aren't in immediate jeopardy. Even if the Maori Party can sort out an orderly leadership transition - and there is little evidence of that to date - the reality is they face a huge struggle to hold on to their three current seats in 2014, irrespective of who is wearing what badges.
It is all a far cry from 2004 when, as Chris Trotter writes, the dream was that the Maori Party would harness the growing voting power of Maori and leverage it against National and Labour - see: Maori Party's founding tenets starting to unravel. Ignoring the material interests of the majority of working class Maori has been fatal to that dream, especially as 'it was the Maori Party's misfortune to enter into a confidence-and-supply agreement with the National Party just as a global financial crisis was hurling tens of thousands of young Maori into joblessness and underemployment'.
The divide between Mana and the Maori Party has a real and clear ideological base beyond personalities. Despite this, there remains huge doubt as to whether two separate Maori parties can survive in Parliament in the long term. The call for a unified independent political movement, as unlikely as it is right now, continues to have wide political appeal, voiced at Ratana by senior leader Ruia Aperahama - see: RNZ's Ratana Church supports Mana-Maori alliance. Those wanting a single independent Maori political force will probably have their wish granted eventually, but it is much more likely to come about as a result of attrition than negotiation.
Other important or interesting recent political items include:
* This week's Cabinet reshuffle has been declared bold and impressive but there have been some naysayers. Both Danyl Mclauchlan (Respect!) and Mark Blackham (Cabinet reshuffle) are less convinced than some, with Blackham saying that 'It's not much of a refresh. The real story is that in the fifth year of his administration, Key is in the same position as many predecessors; struggling to identify more good performers among ranks just outside Cabinet'. Gordon Campbell also identifies problems in his post, On the Cabinet reshuffle. Meanwhile, TV3 has reported my explanation for Hekia Parata being retained while other ministers were sacked - see: Edwards: Why Parata kept her job. And Cathy Odgers makes some similar points in her post, If It Looks Like A Spade And Smells Like A Spade..... Highly recommended is Jane Clifton's a gutsy and weirdly blinkered National reshuffle.
* Housing is the big policy issue of the day, with plenty of policy prescriptions being rolled out. Rodney Hide questions whether the various policies on state housing are simply about buying votes, and asks 'whose interests do state houses serve? Politicians or tenants?' - see: State house policy must free tenants from rentals.
* Some difficult questions are also asked about the current Government policy on interest-free student loans in Richard Meadows' Bitter pill should be swallowed.
* We're going to hear a lot about local government this year - and especially about amalgamations. That's why it's worth reading Pattrick Smellie's Local reform coming, ready or not. For a lesson in central government intervention, see Kerry Burke's How ECan fell to the irrigators.
* Are New Zealanders too anti-business? The departing head of NZ Coca-Cola has said so, leading to a debate about whether we value capitalists enough. The Herald has responded with an editorial saying that Business criticism hard to fathom. Matt McCarten has taken up the health aspect of the drinks manufacturer criticism, saying When your product benefits health, George, I'll show you some respect. But according to David Farrar, McCarten's argument actually reinforces the CEO's point - see: McCarten on Coke.
* David Shearer's upcoming 'state of the nation' speech will emphasise Labour's economic differences with National, particularly the notion that Labour is now interventionist in contrast to National's 'hands off' approach. John Armstrong says, 'Shearer's more clear-cut position-taking will offer something voters have not enjoyed for a long time - a real choice between the two major parties on the fundamentals of economic policy' - see: A new year, a new clarity from Shearer. But David Farrar makes some excellent points in his blog post, Not very hands off, in which in he illustrates just how economically interventionist this National Government actually is. He correctly points out that 'the current differences between National and Labour in terms of involvement in the economy tend to be around the details, not a fundamental disagreement that the Government has a role in economic development'.
* If you want to look at what biculturalism means in 2013, John McCrone's feature in The Press on Ngai Tahu's reach is highly recommended. Despite being the 'whitest of New Zealand cities', Christchurch is about to be rebuilt with the local iwi in the front seat, and it's likely that even 'street signage will also be dual language', and the Avon River's English willow trees could be cut down as part of the 'Maorification' of the new city.
* Steve Braunias' wicked 'Secret Diary' series starts again this weekend, and he's written a precursor to it, to explain what motivates him - see: Mocking Kiwis with a mix of love and loathing.
* TV One's Seven Sharp programme is still generating plenty of opinion, despite not actually being screened yet. The most useful recent items include Paul Little's A hapless half hour, John Drinnan's Dotcom mania too much, and Scott Kara's Jesse Mulligan: I want to be like Jon Stewart.
* Finally, if you want to know what's going to happen in politics for the rest of the year, all you have to do is read Toby Manhire's very funny and perceptive column, The year in review in advance.