By AUDREY YOUNG political reporter

Former MP and waka-jumper Rana Waitai has rejoined National and is a delegate at the party conference in Christchurch this weekend.

Tuariki Delamere says he has also joined and Tau Henare says he is thinking about it, but he is still the leader of Mauri Pacific.

The former members of New Zealand First's "tight five" Maori MPs split from their party when it went into Opposition in 1998, and kept National in power.


Mr Waitai said he had received a wonderful welcome in Christchurch, including that of party leader Jenny Shipley.

"I thought I was going to be some kind of leper here and would have taken that on the chin if they'd said, 'What are you wriggling back here for?'

"But it has been absolutely marvellous - from people who didn't even speak to me much before. It's really humbling."

Now commuting from Wanganui to law lectures at Victoria University, Mr Waitai is in the Whanganui electorate delegation, and has lost 19kg since being defeated last election in Ikaroa-Rawhiti.

The former police commander was with National from 1973 to 1992 but quit after a spat with Prime Minister Jim Bolger over the correlation between unemployment and crime.

"This is philosophically me. It was before and it is now."

He would think about standing for Parliament again. "If someone were to come along and say, 'Would you be on the list,' I'd give that some thought, too."

Mr Delamere, who started his political activism in National, said he was too busy with his immigration consultancy in Auckland to become actively involved again, and was not interested in running for Parliament.

Mr Henare had not heard that Mr Waitai had rejoined National. "Well, bugger me," he said.

Mauri Pacific will hold a meeting in October to assess its future.

Mr Henare recently expressed interest in standing for National but said yesterday that a lot would depend on whether ex-Maori Affairs Minister Dover Samuels stood in his stamping ground, Te Tai Tokerau.

Signals from party president John Slater in his conference speech suggest the party wants new blood, not old faces.

"We need to identify a new slate of top-level, high-performing candidates to fill both the constituency and the list seats that we will win in 2002.

"We want candidates who are anything but mediocre. We want candidates who will inspire and excite the electorate."

Frontbencher and shadow Leader of the House Roger Sowry delivered a strong speech, boosting his credentials as a likely successor to deputy leader Wyatt Creech.

He attacked Helen Clark as a domineering and interfering Prime Minister who was wrecking relationships with her own MPs.

"I predict she will become the most isolated and insular leader this country has ever had. She is already well on the way," said Mr Sowry.

"This is our country, not Helen Clark's country.

"This country belongs to New Zealanders and they are fiercely proud, innovative people who will not be lectured by a Government-knows-best Prime Minister working in isolation from her own colleagues."

The Government was revisiting the 1970s, "the golden age of lefties, flared jeans, fondue and wildcat strikes on the Cook Strait ferries."

Mrs Shipley, whose major speech is delivered today, made comparisons between her team and the winning Canterbury Crusaders rugby side: pride in what they did, perseverance and an expectation that leadership be displayed by every team player.

"I want this party to catch that disease."

The party watched a recorded message from Britain's opposition Conservative Party leader, William Hague, drawing parallels between the two parties.

He said that despite initial judgments that Labour's landslide last time would keep them in power for several terms, he could say with conviction that his party could win the next election.