The Labour Party will arrive at Ratana Pa today under pressure to show it deserves to maintain its hold on the Maori seats at this year's election.

The party has faced criticism from members of the influential Ratana Church and the Kingitanga Movement that it has taken Maori support for granted.

Ahead of his visit to the pa near Whanganui today, Labour leader Andrew Little said he had worked to rebuild ties with Ratana after being criticised at last year's event.

It is understood he will make an election promise today - the first day of the political year - to build or upgrade housing in the small Ratana settlement near Whanganui.


Labour holds six of the seven Maori electorates but will face fresh challenges at the general election.

The Maori Party and Mana are planning to form an alliance in a bid to claim back the Maori seats. Mana leader Hone Harawira said yesterday that the two parties were still working out the terms of the agreement but he confirmed that the Maori Party would not run a candidate in Te Tai Tokerau to allow him a clear run.

Harawira lost the seat to Labour's Kelvin Davis by 743 votes - far fewer than the Maori Party candidate's 2579 votes.

Mana would return the favour in Waiariki, agreeing not to run a candidate against Te Ururoa Flavell.

The Maori Party made a strong pitch for the 30,000 Ratana followers' votes yesterday. Flavell said Ratana's alliance with Labour, which dates back to 1935, was over.

"It is finished. As many speakers have said today, that was made for a place and a time. The times have moved on."

Labour's attempts to hold on to the Maori seats could also be tested by the Greens' new push for the Maori vote.

Co-leader Metiria Turei confirmed yesterday that she would run in Te Tai Tonga after previously running in non-Maori electorates. The party is also hoping to run in all seven Maori seats.


Earlier in the day, Bill English's first visit to Ratana as Prime Minister was well received, in particular his introductory remarks in fluent Te Reo Maori, which lasted about three minutes and were given without notes.

He later described Ratana as a respectful event - an indirect criticism of the more chaotic Waitangi celebrations, which he has decided to avoid next week because of concerns he would not be able to speak at Te Tii Marae. He will instead spend the day in Auckland.

Speaking to Ratana elders, he said: "As you have seen here today, the best of tikanga is good for New Zealand, it's good for New Zealanders to see it, it's such a warm and positive and hospitable way of business."