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The Harawira womenfolk's turn of phrase is nothing if not earthy.

Tribal elders who upset them are accused of lacking "balls". Last weekend came a variation on the theme.

Matriarch Titewhai accused Maori Party co-leaders Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia of hanging off Prime Minister John Key's jockstraps.

It's not an image easy to erase from the imagination, nor one that most adult men would want to hear coming from the mouth of their elderly mother as she rushes, once more, to do battle on their behalf.

How humiliating for a chap. Most mothers stop dabbing your grazed knee with the wet hanky well before your teenage years - at least in public. But not Hone's mum.

All he wanted to do was throw a party with a few of his mates - former Alliance president Matt McCarten, retired Green MP Sue Bradford, longtime stirrer John Minto.

All battle-scarred veterans of many a good cause. But could mum let him out of her sight? No way, she wants to be the bouncer who whacks anyone who throws as much as a sideways glance at dear Hone.

Is it any wonder that Hone's playmates, with the exception of the redoubtable Mr McCarten, seem to have gone a little cold on allying themselves too closely to his Mana Party?

Trying to relive the Alliance dream through Mana is one thing, but in the cold light of day, with Titewhai in the yard ready to slip the leash at any moment, what electoral future does such a party have?

In a May Day Herald on Sunday column, Mr McCarten took pot shots at his rivals on the far right. Reacting to Don Brash's takeover of the Act Party, he said: "The Act ragtags have been a dysfunctional bunch of nuts for some time."

A few weeks back, Mrs Harawira was reported calling Dr Sharples a "gutless dog" and a "big cry-baby". At a Maori Party hui last Sunday at Te Tii marae, she denounced Mrs Turia as a "bloody liar" and a "snake". With allies like this, potential supporters could be thinking that what Mr McCarten said of "Act ragtags" could equally be said of his lot.

If Mana is going to have any chance of being seen as a broad church, left-wing party with Mr Harawira as its leader, Hone is going to have to have the balls to tell his mum to butt out. Otherwise he's going to be seen, by supporters and opponents alike, as a Prince Charles-type spare wheel, always at risk of being trumped by the matriarch.

This year Mrs Harawira, as a Maori Council executive member, declared her intention to expose the treatment of Maori to foreign media covering the Rugby World Cup.

She told the Sunday Star-Times she wanted to reveal that reports "that say we are well looked after and our land is intact is rubbish".

Mrs Harawira has every right to exploit the World Cup publicity circus but I suspect it won't do the Mana Party any favours, either among its potential Maori voter base or across the broader working-class vote Mr McCarten dreams of harnessing.

If there is one unifying element in New Zealand society, it still is the hope that the All Blacks might win the Cup.

Last weekend's verbal violence also reminds those of us with longer memories of her nine months' jail sentence for assaulting a patient at the old Carrington Maori mental health unit, the dreaded Whare Paia, which somehow she and family members were hired to run in the mid-1980s.

Four others were also sentenced for violence against the patient. As far as I'm aware she has never apologised.

For years Mrs Harawira has turned the annual Waitangi Day celebrations at the Treaty Grounds into her own personal circus. Will she hold the Prime Minister's hand or make them cry? As for Hone, well, they do say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

In November 2009, when Mr Harawira was criticised for skiving off from a work trip to Brussels to visit Paris with his wife, he let fly with strings of invective.

Commentator Willie Jackson defended him on Radio New Zealand, saying "like any number of his Maori acquaintances, I've copped the odd barrage from him along the way ... He can be an arrogant, foul-mouthed, swaggering, bullying bugger who'll walk all over you if you give him a chance. The trick is to stand up to him."

And that's from a mate.

The question is, does the struggling worker need a figurehead like this - especially when every time he stops to take a breath his mum is in the wings ready to deliver a king hit?

At the launch of the Mana Party, former Green MP Nandor Tanczos warned of building a party around one person.

They "have never been able to achieve what they are looking for".

And that's without the mum.



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