King Tuheitia's 10th-anniversary speech in August was a departure from the convention that dignified neutrality is the cornerstone of titular statesmanship. Certainly, his predecessor and mother, Dame Te Atairangikaahu, refrained from explicitly endorsing any political party.

But not so her son, who announced he will not vote for Labour and encouraged Maori to support an accord between the Maori Party and the Mana Movement.

Commentators ascribe the move to the influence of the King's close adviser Tukoroirangi Morgan, saying he wields too much control over Tuheitia.

Morgan was elected president of the Maori Party in July and has already explored with Mana leader Hone Harawira strategies for winning back the Maori seats.


Morgan is the power behind the throne. He was pivotal in gaining Tuheitia's appointment as monarch ahead of his older sister, Heeni Katipa, whom Dame Te Atairangikaahu originally favoured as her successor.

Some will question whether a king should be so easily swayed. However, that is overly simplistic. The undercurrents flowing from the Waikato run much deeper than mere posturing.

In the 2014 debacle of the acrimony between the Maori Party and the Mana Movement, Te Ururoa Flavell's obstinate ambition and Harawira's cheap flirtation with internet tycoon Kim Dotcom, brown voters were split between party and tribal loyalties or, disenchanted with continual ruptures, abstained from voting altogether.

Labour walked through the middle to win or hold six of the Maori seats and top the party vote in all seven. Flavell retained Waiariki for the Maori Party.

However, the Maori electorate left a clear message that they prefer both a Labour Government and an independent Maori voice.

The combined Mana-Maori Party electorate vote was an average 1128 higher than for Labour in the Te Tai Tokerau, Te Tai Hauauru and Tamaki Makaurau seats, 558 more than the year before in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti byelection. Voters were simply unable to choose between Mana and Maori.

A real driver behind the King's speech is that many Maori believe Labour takes the Maori seats for granted. Such disillusionment led to former Cabinet minister Matiu Rata quitting the party in 1979 and forcing a byelection in Northern Maori the next year (which he lost); New Zealand First's clean sweep of the Maori seats in 1996; Government minister Tariana Turia's departure from Labour in 2004; and the rise of the Maori Party.

Labour trumpets its 80-year relationship with the Ratana Movement, but National is consistently delivering more Maori into Parliament, Government and Cabinet through its general seats, the party list and the Maori Party accord.

The first Maori Labour candidate to win a general electorate was Louisa Wall in 2011, some 36 years after National achieved the same with Ben Couch and Rex Austin in 1975 and 18 years after Sandra Lee won Auckland Central for the Alliance.

Labour, with 32 MPs, has only one more Maori MP than the Greens and New Zealand First with 25 MPs.

Labour maintains a Pakeha caucus hegemony by not promoting Maori in the general electorates and on the party list.

In the last election, Maori candidates delivered nine of the 11 seats in which the party vote favoured Labour. Just four of those nine candidates made the top 20 on Labour's 64-person party list; one was 28th, the other four nowhere.

Had the Mana and the Maori Party not split in the Maori electorates, Labour would have half the number of Maori MPs that National has.

King Tuheitia's speech also reflects unease with Labour leader Andrew Little, who is awkward on Maori issues. He reportedly described the annual Ratana pilgrimage as a "not particularly fruitful ... beauty parade" and did not mention Maori in his January 2016 state of the nation speech, "Backing the Kiwi Dream".

Many balked at his unexplained demotion of Nanaia Mahuta from fourth to 12th in the shadow cabinet, suggesting this was the penalty for her previous support for Little's predecessor, David Cunliffe. If that is so, the punishment is disproportionate.

She is the longest-serving Maori MP in the Labour caucus, her 17-year hold on her constituency (now Hauraki-Waikato) is the longest of the current Maori-seat holders, and she was an important cog in the machine that won six of the seven Maori seats.

Mahuta has also been loyal. Alongside Turia, she voted against the first two readings of Labour's controversial foreshore and seabed legislation in 2004, but when Turia resigned and founded the Maori Party, Mahuta stayed with Labour and supported the third reading.

When Mahuta stood down from the 2014 Labour leadership contest, the transfer of her caucus, party-member and affiliate support proved the pivotal difference in Little's victory: he had been last in caucus support in the first voting round.

To his credit, Little did promote Kelvin Davis, but only by one place to seventh. Technically, he also promoted Peeni Henare and Meka Whaitiri to 20 and 22; however, those two, and four other Maori MPs, rank in the bottom 12.

In dismissing Morgan's assertion that the Mahuta demotion would not be without consequence, Little made a serious miscalculation.

Pakeha regularly lambaste Morgan over the 1997 underpants affair. But the former New Zealand First MP, leader of the Tekaumarua council inside Tainui, TV presenter and producer is one of the best navigators in Maoridom of the complexities underpinning the political forum that is the marae.

He was the standout leader during the tangi for Dame Te Atairangikaahu in 2006. He is a powerhouse among iwi leaders.

The road to redemption is never easy. Morgan faces the difficult task of conjuring a unified assault to make a clean sweep of the Maori seats.

The Maori Party will work with National or Labour; Mana may not work with anyone. One suspects Flavell is more resistant to working with Harawira than vice versa.

Prime Minister John Key will work with the Maori Party and is even happy not to stand candidates in the Maori electorates - but he won't work with Harawira.

Labour will possibly work with the Maori Party but, in contrast to Key, wants to put them to the sword in the Maori electorates first.

From this welter emerges the possibility of a Mana-Maori accord whereby they maintain their own party lists but divide the seven candidacies between them.

Success is not simply a matter of adding the 2014 votes. Seven Maori electorates do not divide evenly: if the dividing follows the vote - the Maori Party beat Mana in five seats - then the partnership is potentially uneven, ripe for conflict and may unravel again.

Te Tai Tokerau and Waiariki are straightforward - Harawira and Flavell. Barring a dramatic disaster, Flavell is certain to return in 2017. Not so Harawira. Kelvin Davis is quality. Viewed as constructive, he may now have the edge in local support. It will be a close race.

The Iwi Leaders Forum will be important. Labour's Rino Tirikatene is very much Ngai Tahu's man in Te Tai Tonga. Unless he and/or Ngai Tahu shift, which is unlikely, it will be an uphill battle unseating him.

Neither Mana nor the Maori Party has done well since Rahui Katene was defeated in 2011. Without local support, they will struggle.

Similarly, in Te Tai Hauauru, Adrian Rurawhe is very much Ratana's candidate. Ratana will need to be on board with the Kingitanga for a change here. Turia's influence will be crucial.

A single contender from either Mana or the Maori Party would have taken Ikaroa-Rawhiti in 2013. That is now more difficult. Whaitiri, the incumbent, has built a good base, not yet as large as that of her predecessor Parekura Horomia, but trending similarly.

The East Coast respect the Kingitanga but make their own decisions. Mana got more votes in 2014 than the Maori Party; however, new MP Marama Fox has been a standout performer and earns the place here.

Neither Mana nor Maori will want to pass up on populous Tamaki Makaurau. A strong emerging Maori middle class favours the Maori Party, and the poor southern hub prefers Mana.

In 2014, many voted for Green Party star Marama Davidson. Now that she's added Middle East deportee to her résumé, whether she stands will decide the outcome. She may even win: she'll get a huge mana wahine and youth vote in Auckland, and if the others split, she's through the middle.

Forget the pundits who say the King will decide Hauraki-Waikato. If Mahuta stands again, she wins the jewel in the crown. She has served the electorate and her iwi well. Men will not decide her fate. If she decides to move on, then the seat is open for the Maori Party.

The clarity of the message will be important and unity paramount. The parties will need to convince voters that principles have triumphed over personalities and that they have moved on in the best interests of the franchise they claim to represent.

The spectacular rise of the Maori Party was based on the foreshore and seabed issue; now new causes are required. The stand on poverty worked for Mana in 2014 and remains relevant. Putting emphasis on homelessness, child welfare, abuse and homicide could define the Maori election.

Morgan must recruit high-profile candidates capable of swaying both the tribal and wider Maori constituencies away from Labour. He is already in pursuit of Sir Mark Solomon. The Maori King and ostensibly the Maori Party and Mana Movement are on side.

All he needs now is Ngai Tahu, Ratana, the East Coast, the rising brown middle class of Auckland and a still-young Maori woman whose father, Robert Mahuta, mentored by Princess Te Puea to settle Waikato's Treaty of Waitangi claims, in turn groomed her to be the first MP to wear the moko kauae in Parliament.

No easy task, but the last thing you want to do is underestimate Mr Morgan.

Rawiri Taonui is Professor of Maori and Indigenous Studies at Massey University.