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On Monday when I phoned Hone Harawira he answered without giving his name. I said, "Is that Hone?" He said,"Depends who it is."

When I told him, he said, "That's all right then. If you'd been a policeman, I'd have said, 'He isn't here'." Where would he have said he was?

"In Paris!"

He was, remember, to embark the next day on a round of mea culpas, Harawira style. The last time I saw him, in 2005, he had just called the leaders of the Maori Party "square buggers" and "dull and lifeless". That was before he was named as a candidate for the Te Tai Tokerau seat he now holds.

He apologised then. He didn't apologise for giving me the fingers, by way of a cheeky greeting. This time he greeted me, at the University of Auckland marae, with a peck on the cheek. He would later tell me he'd learned a lot in the last few days.

He seemed uncharacteristically jittery. He said, to no one in particular: "Where am I supposed to be?" and "What am I supposed to do?"

I asked if he had been nervous. He said, "Well, because I have to stand in front of a whole lot of mainstream media, I don't know how seriously they're going to take me when I'm giving an apology, you know. I'm not often nervous but ..."

It is when I say I was surprised at this that he says he's learned a lot. But, as evident in that little phone skit, he gives in to the irresistible urge to play the clown, to show off. I suggested he hadn't sounded a bit contrite when I phoned him: "You could have been Constable Hewitson for all I knew."

He said, at that press conference, when he was supposed to be apologising: "I'm the hardest-working MP in the country."

Showing off, I said. "I know. I didn't want to go into that whole parliamentary expenses thing." Admitting this is either glibness or arrogance. Or simply Harawira being Harawira. Which might mean a combination of those traits plus a few more unique to being a Harawira.

I read him a quote, from 2007, from Listener columnist Jane Clifton: "By both nature and nurture, a Harawira is quick to both take and give offence."

He seemed to rather like that. He said, "I don't know that that's necessarily true of a Harawira; it is probably true of me."

But does he think this is a flaw or a strength? "I think it's both. Often when people are too muted in their responses, they start building reasons why they shouldn't respond ... I know this to be true: when I fire, people go, 'It's from the heart; we love you for it'." In other words, he doesn't really recognise that being a hot-head is a flaw at all. Well, he is a Harawira.

There were a few clues about what that might mean at that press conference. Everyone took their shoes off before going into the meeting house, except his mother, Titewhai.

I asked her son if only his mother was allowed to keep her shoes on. "Pretty much." How does that work? "She can pretty much go wherever she likes."

Mark Sainsbury recited a list of accusations, or attributes, depending on where you were sitting: firebrand, outspoken ... I was sitting next to Titewhai, who shouted: "Good-looking". I laughed. It wasn't a joke. The supporters nodded in sober agreement and chorused: "Kia ora, kia ora."

Because of that surprising show of nerves - it's not a question you ordinarily think to ask of a Harawira - I asked whether anything frightened him.

"I guess ... not really. I don't think so." Except his mother? "Ha, ha. Yeah, I guess. She always will, I suppose. She's my mum."

All of the above tells you what you need to know about being raised Harawira. You can do what you want and you don't have to take your shoes off. It's one definition of being a rebel.

Still, surely even he knows that you can't say, as he did about Phil Goff, that people should be shot. A long pause. "Yeah, probably."

Would he like to apologise? "Hell, no! That was polite." He tried the "Willie [Jackson] asked a question; I answered" defence. I reminded him that he was a politician. He should have side-stepped the question. "I should have. I should have." Then, grinning, "And you'd have gone, 'What happened to that guy? He's turned into a real pussy'."

He said, "Quite frankly, I made the apology because I believed it needed to be made, because I thought I'd done serious wrong, okay? Having said that, I'm not about to then say, 'I'm now going to go quiet while Phil Goff slags me off'. And I guess that is probably the PC thing to do. Would you be doing this interview if I was an ordinary, PC kind of politician? The answer is no."

But I wouldn't need to be doing this interview if he was an ordinary PC politician. Because he wouldn't have got himself in trouble, now would he? "Pretty much." And he does admit he's in trouble? "I know I'm in trouble." Honestly, why didn't he just shut up? He is a politician. "Yeah, I guess it's something to think about, eh? I don't know why. I don't know. In hindsight, mmm. But I'm not like any other ordinary politician."

He is the only politician I've interviewed who has to be repeatedly reminded of the fact that he is one. "It doesn't matter. Not to me it doesn't. The people of Te Tai Tokerau voted me in because I am the man I am and I don't think they expect me to be like any other politician." That is pure Harawira: from conciliatory to combative in the space of a couple of sentences.

I do know why he does it: nature and nurture. But he has considerable charm and I think he's aware of it. Why doesn't he use it? "Phew. I guess I know I have the ability, I don't know about charm, but to influence people. I know I have that ability. But I worry, often, about politicians getting so caught up in their minds about just influencing opinion ... that I'll start to think that's the important part of life."

It seems pure idiocy - and he's not stupid - to use his attempt to get himself out of trouble to cause more of a ruckus.

He takes me calling him an idiot well. But he is used to being ticked off by women. His mother and his wife, Hilda, he'll readily admit, are his real bosses. So when I say, "You were an idiot", he says, "Pretty much, yeah. I should have talked to her [Hilda] first." He means about the white mofas email before he sent it to former Waitangi Tribunal director Buddy Mikaere.

He didn't, "because I let my anger get at me. He was questioning my right to take my wife to Paris sort of thing. I thought, 'You a-hole', and just sort of responded immediately". I'm not sure he really thinks being a hot-head is a problem. He has, in what is presumably meant to be a conciliatory interview, just called Mikaere an "a-hole".

The real trouble he is in is that he has now given people carte blanche to say publicly what many have likely believed privately. "I do know exactly what you mean," he says, "Hone hates Pakeha ... would you like to see one of the emails I've just received?"

The language is unprintable. But why is he showing me? "Because I think it's important that you realise a whole lot of people think exactly the same way against us." And now he's given a whole lot of people the excuse to say, "In his heart, at home, he says that about us so we can say that about him".

He says, again, yes, he knows what I mean, but then we go around in circles trying and failing to talk about racism and about the damage the perception that he hates Pakeha has done. He says, almost plaintively: "The only way you can really find out, Michele, is to ask my wife."

I'm asking him, about what he does say in private, about Pakeha. "It doesn't matter how many times I tell you it's not true. That guy [who sent the text message], those guys just love the opportunity to be able to say that to me and, unfortunately, I gave him the opportunity."

He said that with what sounded like real regret. And, by the way, I think I can tell when people are hostile to me. He wasn't, not even slightly, and as we know, he's not the best actor when it comes to disguising his feelings. Earlier, he was all bluster (which is not the same thing as acting) when I asked if that message had upset him.

"Honestly? I'm not crying about it, that's for sure. I get that stuff all the time."

Yesterday morning the headline read: "Maori Party leaders give Harawira the message - jump or be pushed." I left a message and he called back and said, "I'm feeling really quite relaxed in the Tai Tokerau." Really? That sounded like more Harawira bravado.

He said, "[It's] kind of disappointing but ... I'm sitting on my veranda in the sun, thinking: 'Well, this is not quite a 10-storey building.' Ha, ha, ha." More Harawira bravado? "No, no, I'm serious." Then because he really can't help himself: "I don't mean to be rude, Michele, but as you've spoken to me the clouds have come across."

I could hardly take offence. I'd asked him, on Monday, whether he was arrogant. Almost any other politician would have got the pip at that question. He said, "Yeah, I think I am." Not many people would admit to it. "Probably because not too many people have people say it to them all the time."

He tells me his wife found some notes she'd taken, years ago, an observation of her husband at a meeting: "Manipulative, arrogant ..." Why would he tell me this? "There's no point trying to deny it."

These are not good character traits. "I know. But they are probably necessary requirements of the successful politician. A measure of arrogance and a measure of manipulativeness. Surely. Aren't they?"

They are also probably necessary to being Harawira, and don't hold your breath waiting for an apology for that.