The Maori electorate contests this year are going to be fascinating. The newly-announced Mana-Maori electoral deal is already causing acrimony, as well as raising questions about the best way to achieve Maori representation and social progress.

It was only a few years ago that Hone Harawira called his former colleagues in the Maori Party "house niggers". Monday's announcement of an electorate deal between the Mana and Maori parties shows how much flux Maori politics is in, with changing alliances and configurations of power. Much of this also reflects changing ideas about how to make gains for Maori.

The scene is now set for a Mana-Maori showdown against Labour. It's a battle about whether there's a need an independent vehicle for Maori interests in electoral politics - what is often termed a "kaupapa Maori party" - or whether Maori voters are better represented within other forms. In particular, the question is about whether Maori are better served by leftwing or rightwing politics and parties.

Should Maori unite in politics?

A must-read analysis on the new electoral deal is yesterday's Dominion Post editorial: Will Hone Harawira's deal bring him back from the grave? This tackles the issue of whether any sort of "Maori vote" exists, and suggests that Maori interests are crosscut - as with any other ethnicity - by other factors such as economic or tribal interests.

It concludes there is little logic in a separate Maori party: "The brute fact is that there is no such thing as the Maori vote, any more than there is a Pakeha vote. There is no single 'Maori interest'. Maori interests vary, just as Pakeha interests do. That is the basic illusion built into the structure of the Maori Party: that Maori have a common interest that will override the class, gender, regional, tribal and personal allegiances of actual and individual Maori voters."

Nonetheless, the editorial argues that competition for the Maori vote is natural and progressive, and no party should have any sort of monopoly on Maori support.

This is backed up by Paul Moon's arguments in favour of Willie Jackson choosing the Labour Party to advance the interests of Maori at the bottom of the heap - see: Why Willie Jackson could be election decider.

Moon suggests that Maori are increasingly divided along class lines, and that the main kaupapa Maori Party is actually an "iwi elite" party, and therefore acting against the economic interests of most Maori: "this so-called iwi elite is attracting growing criticism from some quarters as inequalities within many iwi show no sign of reducing, despite the increasing wealth of some tribes. As an example, the Herald reported last week that Tainui has net assets per member of $13,901, compared with Ngapuhi's net assets per member of $425. Yet in both cases, significant poverty plagues a large portion of both iwi. What has become abundantly clear over the last two decades is the growth in the wealth in most iwi has not been accompanied by the broad elevation in the proportionate wealth of the members of those iwi."

Labour leader Andrew Little ran a similar line about the Maori Party yesterday in an interview on RNZ's Morning Report, in which he called into question the principles of the Maori Party - you can watch the nine-minute interview here: Maori Party 'not kaupapa Maori' - Andrew Little.

Little's argument is essentially that, in collaborating with the National Party and helping them govern, the Maori Party has sold out those Maori at the bottom of the heap, and this is evident in the fact that nothing had changed for Maori in that time in terms of over-representation in the criminal justice system, unemployment statistics and educational underachievement.

The Labour leader has been strongly backed up by his Maori MPs, who have also launched scathing attacks on the Maori Party: "Hauraki MP Nanaia Mahuta and Ikaroa Rawhiti MP Meka Whaitiri both questioned the Maori Party's record on unemployment, healthcare and homelessness... Peeni Henare, who holds Tamaki Makaurau for Labour, questioned what the Maori Party was talking about. He said 'using kaupapa Māori as the bargaining chip for negotiations with a government then end up compromising - well, that's not kaupapa Maori'." - see Mihingarangi Forbes' Politicians fired up over 'kaupapa Maori'.

The fierce reaction to Labour's kaupapa jibe

On Twitter, the response to Little's statements on RNZ was vociferous. There were claims that Little was "whitesplaining", and many challenged whether, as a white man, he had any right or credibility to talk about Maori politics and representation.

Even on the political right, the reaction against Little's pronouncement was strong. For example, Matthew Hooton ‏‪(@MatthewHootonNZ) tweeted:

Similarly, David Farrar went into bat for the Maori Party - not only arguing the party's independence from National, but disputing Little's ability to categorise the party, saying, "Could you imagine the outrage from Labour if Bill English said that certain Maori MPs were not principled Maori" - see: Little appoints himself arbiter of who is kaupapa Maori.

Of course it has been the politicians from the Maori Party who really hit back hardest, especially with accusations of racism. Former co-leaders were scathing - Tariana Turia is reported saying "Our people need to be reminded of the racism that continues to exist in the Labour Party" and Pita Sharples agreed: "You see, it's that kind of using made-up phrases like that to denigrate the authenticity of Māori that really does the damage in race relations. He should be ashamed of himself" - see Mihingarangi Forbes' Politicians fired up over 'kaupapa Maori'.

Forbes adds "Little may not have understood exactly how offensive his strike was at the time but his comments have shaken the foundations of the party hierarchy", and concludes: "One thing is for sure: the gloves are off in the Maori electorates."

Current co-leader, Marama Fox said Little is the "worst example of someone who understands Maori". She also penned a response to Little, outlining the many initiatives that her party can claim credit for under the National Government - see: Marama Fox responds to Andrew Little's claim Maori Party 'not kaupapa Maori'. She says, "The list goes on and on, because we sit at the table, we can influence policy and budget spend."

In response to the Maori Party's counter-attacks, Labour's Kelvin Davis questioned whether his opponents were right to cry "racism", complaining "As soon as they're challenged by a pakeha, they drop the race card. They aren't exempt from criticism just because they're Maori" - see: Sad to see Maori Party playing race card.

Furthermore, Davis suggested that the Maori Party were being too thin-skinned: "The Maori Party love to throw barbs and put-downs on the one hand, while on the other hand saying our people don't like seeing us attack each other... If they're happy to dish it out they have to be prepared to take it. Their only sad rebuttal is to play the race card."

Unsurprisingly, Harawira also defended his new allies against the attacks from Labour. He told RNZ that, "I think what Maori really need is to not have white guys like Andrew Little telling us what to do, and what our aspirations should be."

But more surprisingly he cited a concern about the aggression involved. RNZ reports, "Harawira said the Labour leader's comments about his deal with the Maori Party were inappropriate and quite nasty. He told Morning Report he found it quite astounding how arrogant Labour leaders could be when talking about what Māori needed" - see: Labour leader 'should be ashamed' - Sir Pita.

Elsewhere, Harawira also claimed "One of the things I've always tried to do is keep the personalities out of politics". And on whether Maori must unite as Maori, or along other lines, Harawira argued: "If we are to go forward as Maori it must be as Mana Maori Motuhake and that can't be achieved by a Maori candidate standing in a Pakeha party because Pakeha principles and Pakeha priorities always take precedence and our aim is to put Maori kaupapa at the top" - see Mikaela Collins' Mana Movement and Maori Party join forces to take back Maori seats from Labour.


Debates over "Kaupapa Maori"

The new debates about Maori representation revolve a lot around the term "kaupapa". RNZ's Susie Ferguson used it in her interview with Andrew Little, and RNZ's Mihingarangi Forbes has defined "Kaupapa Maori parties" as being "Maori-based".

The term has recently been popularised by political commentator Morgan Godfery, who has written academic chapters using the term as a core concept. Godfery (@MorganGodfery) has since tweeted about his understanding of the term, outlining the three features of kaupapa Maori politics "kaupapa māori politics understands power relations through tino rangatiratanga and kāwanatanga, not sovereignty or monism or the like"; "kaupapa māori politics says sites of power - institutions etc - should operate according to tikanga (see the māori party constitution)"; and "and any ideology and praxis needs a desired future. under kaupapa māori politics its democratic pluralism secured through mana motuhake".

Alternatively, Victoria University of Wellington's Mamari Stephens blogs about it, providing a definition from the Te Aka Māori Dictionary: "Maori approach, Maori topic, Maori customary practice, Maori institution, Maori agenda, Maori principles, Maori ideology - a philosophical doctrine, incorporating the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values of Maori society" - see: Andrew Little and the Māori lightbulb moment.

Stephens accuses Little of "ignorance of Maori and Maori modes of thought and action", and having "commandeered the Maori language and insulted Maori politicians and voters in such a cavalier way."

The most vocal defence of Andrew Little comes in Gordon Campbell's must-read column, On using 'kaupapa Maori' as a cloak, which accuses the critics of "Maoriana posturing".

Campbell endorses the critical questioning about the kaupapa of the Maori Party: "Surely in an election year, it is very much open to question whether the Maori Party's collaboration with the National government's policies on unemployment, housing, health and welfare is consistent with a viable, sustainable sense of kaupapa Maori. That's the real point. Its not whether some 'feel good' sense of Maori unity is being fostered by the deal; its whether the deal itself can be shown to serve the interests of Maori."

He also challenges the accusations of racism being levelled at Labour: "What Tariana Turia, Pita Sharples and Hone Harawira seemed to be demanding yesterday was the right to drape the cloak of kaupapa Maori over their collusion with National, and thereby claim they had a right - merely by dint of being Maori - to be exempt from criticism by Labour for doing so."

Further interesting discussion about this is made on The Standard, from a Green supporter who accuses Andrew Little of "whitesplaining" - see: Kaupapa Pakeha. She argues "It looks like Labour are willing to bash those they see as being in their way politically. Not that that is unusual in NZ politics, but nevertheless it grates and makes me as a Pakeha leftie cringe when I see it being done to Māori, our treaty partners who are entitled to their own politics."

For Labour, of course, this is primarily about their path into government. The attacks on the Maori Party, along with the poaching of Willie Jackson, have made a coalition deal with the Maori Party now extremely unlikely.

Denying the Maori Party seats, not only shores up Labour's Maori MPs but also aims to deny National a coalition option. That may be successful, but in doing so Labour have also deprived themselves of that option.

The upshot is that Labour's only path to government almost certainly now lies with both the Greens and New Zealand First - with Winston Peters as absolute kingmaker. National, partially thanks to Labour's own actions, may now have the Maori Party as additional coalition option.

The Maori electorate deal examined

In many ways the Mana-Maori deal is basic common sense for any party that believes that Maori need to unite. After all, the deal simply prevents the two kaupapa Maori parties from having the "kaupapa" Maori vote split, which helped Labour win six of the seven Maori seats at the last election.

In this regard, Newshub's Lloyd Burr looks at where the deal could have the most impact in his news report, What the Mana-Maori deal would've meant in the 2014 election. He calculates: "Combining the Mana and Maori electorate votes, Labour wouldn't have won three seats: Te Tai Tokerau, Tamaki Makaurau, and Te Tai Hauauru. Tamaki Makaurau's Peeni Henare and Te Tai Hauauru's Adrian Rurawhe wouldn't be MPs, as they're electorate-only candidates and not on Labour's list."

Of course, it would be a mistake to simply add those numbers together to forecast the result for 2017. Other factors come into play, and the dynamic has changed significantly since 2014 - especially with the shift of Willie Jackson over to Labour. In regard to the complicated numbers, Gordon Campbell writes: "In Te Tai Hauauru, things are also very close. The Labour majority is 1,554, and Mana won 1,940 votes there in 2014. The Green Party however won 3004 votes in Te Tai Hauauru in 2014, and if we're talking about tactical voting, Labour could expect some Green voters may come to its aid in the context of a 2017 campaign where electing a centre-left government may induce voters to transcend party allegiances. Back in Tamaki-Makaurau for instance, the Greens' MP Marama Davidson won 3136 votes last time around, and some of those votes could also be deployed tactically to benefit Labour in the electorate this time around" - see: On the Mana-Maori Party deal.

The best analysis of the deal comes from Audrey Young, who stresses how extraordinary the agreement is: "Today's deal between the Maori Party and the Mana Movement was signed with a great deal more hoopla and harmony than is normally associated with such electoral accommodations. That may be because it is not like other agreements" - see: Unusual degree of harmony in Maori and Mana election deal.

Young points out that the deal is different from most electoral accommodations because of how asymmetrical the deal is - Mana get to run in just one seat, Maori Party in six - and because it brings together such "former bitter foes". Furthermore, she says, "what makes this deal so different to the others is the degree to which they will support each other and sing the praises of the other as electorate candidates. The deal in theory means parties stand aside for the other in given electorates. In practice it appears to go further."

It seems that the Mana-Maori venture will involve joint campaigning and the mutual endorsement of each other's candidates. And Young points out that the two parties are working closely together on the ground in various electorates.

She also cautions that there will be problems for the two aligned parties - for example, "if they are seen as joined at the hip, they may become liabilities for the other in election year."

And the NBR's Rob Hosking also suggests there might be some problems with the match up: "With the phrase 'a party of progress, not protest,' Maori Party president Tuku Morgan heralded the deal between his own party and Hone Harawira's Mana Party yesterday. It's certainly a term of promise but also highlights the potential fragility of the alliance. Mr Harawira is much more closely associated with protest than with anything else: a natural outsider, he was visibly uncomfortable with the deal the Maori Party did with the National party in 2008, and he soon left to set up Mana" - see: Maori-Mana deal is fragile, but important.

Gordon Campbell puts it slightly differently: "To get back on the political stage, Harawira will need to creatively re-define many of the social justice issues that drove him out of the Maori Party in the first place... Arguably, if he is re-elected on the back of this deal, it means that Harawira would not only be dependent on the Maori Party for his victory, but for his ongoing survival. In practice, it would be interesting to see how long that leash would be. Could Harawira really represent his electorate fearlessly without attacking the policies of the very government with whom his parliamentary sponsors are tucked up in bed? Clearly, it may be hard to maintain the façade of 'Maori unity'" - see: On the Mana-Maori Party deal.

Yesterday's Dominion Post editorial asks something similar: "Harawira and the Maori Party split over the question of the Maori Party's relationship with National. All the evidence suggests that the small party will persist with National (or as National's "poodle", as Harawira used to say). So the same problem that broke the first marriage will trouble the second. Why should the voters think the outcome will be any different? Well, Harawira says he has learned how to get on better with others. Perhaps that is true, although Harawira has always been an odd mixture of rational political animal and tantrum artist. Has the leopard changed its spots? The real reason for the alliance is pure self-interest" - see: Will Hone Harawira's deal bring him back from the grave?

Finally, the return of Harawira to the national stage should keep this year's election interesting, and to get a flavour of his latest colourful thinking, see David Fisher's Exclusive interview: Hone Harawira on his comeback deal with the Maori Party, and his six-minute interview today with Duncan Garner: Mana Leader Hone Harawira makes a deal with the Maori Party.