Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Maori Party falter at Key's side

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Hone Harawira (left), Pita Sharples and Te Ururoa Flavell. Photo / NZPA
Hone Harawira (left), Pita Sharples and Te Ururoa Flavell. Photo / NZPA

John Key must feel like he's in a B-grade horror movie where his prom dates keep coming to gruesome demises.

John Banks was the first to fall from grace. I'm sure Act's own party members will be secretly relieved when the good people of Epsom officially put him out of his misery at the next election.

Peter Dunne's self-immolation means he's headed for ignoble retirement as well.

Pita Sharples' capitulation to reality this week completes the trifecta of Key's bestie friends becoming extinct.

If the Maori Party believes merely replacing Sharples with Te Ururoa Flavell will solve its problems, then I despair for it.

Hone Harawira's Mana Party pushing the Maori Party to third place in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti byelection can't be glossed over.

The Maori Party should rue the day it forced out Harawira. It should have known any broad-based Maori Party would naturally have a radical and a conservative wing and used it to its advantage.

Having Harawira part of one wing and the incumbent leaders on the other would have given credibility when they said they could work with either National or Labour.

Voters on the Maori roll only have seven MPs. Therefore, achieving any political gains requires strategic manoeuvring between National and Labour. When you are a permanent minority voice, it is legitimate leverage to say you will work with either main party to extract concessions.

But here's where the Maori Party messed up. It allowed itself to be effectively absorbed by National for little gain. All baubles, no power. From once being Labour's poodle it has become National's lapdog.

Harawira's exit also lost it its activist base, so it is now dependent on the Prime Minister's discretionary goodwill for any minor gains - and minor they are. It's now too late to rebrand itself.

The reality is Mana leans left while the Maori Party leans right. Is there room for two competing Maori-focused parties? Of course not.

Though Labour held Ikaroa-Rawhiti, the combined Mana and Maori Party vote was more.

The arithmetic wasn't lost on Harawira, who on election night grabbed the high ground by calling for reconciliation. If the Maori Party refuses the initiative it's hard not to believe that Labour will pick up the Maori electorates next year, with the probable exception of Harawira's seat.

Not because Tai Tokerau could be vulnerable to Labour but because Harawira may be rewarded by his constituents for at least trying.

If Mana and the Maori Party do kiss and make up, they could recreate the momentum and pick up substantial support - and win big. Over time, Mana and the Maori Party leaders have asked for my advice. So here's some for nothing.

The voters in the Maori electorates are watching. If the leaders get it wrong, Maori will vote for Labour at the next election.

A no-brainer, really.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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