John Armstrong on politics
John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Risky tactics leave Hone bruised

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Hone Harawira. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Hone Harawira. Photo / Mark Mitchell

He wanted the voters of Te Tai Tokerau to give him and his Mana Party a fresh and sizeable mandate. They have instead sent Hone Harawira an ultimatum.

Their message is clear. They want something more than someone who seems to see his role as an MP purely as a lone conscience in a parliamentary den of compromise.

They want less of playing the outsider and more supping with the devil to get some gains for his constituents.

For his part, Harawira must have some very mixed feelings about the result of a byelection he never needed to call.

He cannot claim the electorate has given him an unqualified mandate, given his small majority and the low turnout.

He can take some satisfaction from the Maori Party being given an absolute hiding in a byelection it never needed to fight.

That party's post-mortem of its dreadful campaign will have to address the obvious.

Was its appalling showing the consequence of working with a National government?

It is too late to do much about that before November's general election. However, the party will have to think very hard as to whether it will again help prop up a National-led Administration after November.

John Key and National may turn out to be the ultimate losers from yesterday's unnecessary contest.

Along with the Maori Party, Harawira is one of the immediate losers.

His decision to resign from Parliament and force a byelection following his exit from the Maori Party has turned out to be a tactical blunder of Gallipoli-like stupidity.

It may have slammed shut the door on the Maori Party. It has opened it for Labour to come barging through.

Harawira and his Mana Party advisers would have known his chances of chalking up a large majority would be frustrated by a low turnout.

But they would not have been counting on his 2008 majority of 6300-plus being slashed to just 867.

As the Maori Party candidate in 2008, Harawira won more than 60 per cent of the constituency vote. Last night, his share of that vote had slumped to around 48 per cent.

Labour's Kelvin Davis meanwhile lifted his share of the vote from 29 per cent in 2008 to nearly 41 per cent.

In swinging in behind Davis in comparatively large number, voters have put Harawira firmly on notice.

More than half of those who voted yesterday obviously don't care for his brand of confrontational politics.

They now expect him to shape up as a constructive politician working inside the parliamentary process or he will be shipped out in November.

Harawira's handicap is that yesterday will have been the high water mark in terms of his share of the vote. His less than sparkling showing makes losing his seat in November a real possibility now.

Harawira is smart enough to see the threat Labour poses both to his new party and his former one.

His olive branch to the Maori Party last night seeking talks on the possibility of a Mana Party-Maori Party co-operation agreement sounded genuine not least because it is born of necessity. But the two parties tried to co-operate once before and failed miserably.

The Maori Party's campaign has been a disaster from start to finish.

Its candidate likened himself to a draught horse - solid and dependable. At which point, his own party consigned him to the knacker's yard.

Harawira and Davis did not have to attack Solomon Tipene. His own party did the job for them. One of his leaders said he wasn't up to the task. The party said he would not be doing it again in November.

No surprise then that the Maori Party has come a very distant and humiliating third. The surprise is that it registered barely 1000 votes.

On top of that, Harawira has survived. And Labour has taken a massive step forward towards recapturing the Maori seats.

It is hard to see how last night could have been any worse for Tariana Turia, Pita Sharples and the two other Maori Party MPs.

- NZ Herald

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