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Today's final vote count could deal the Maori Party a stronger hand

John Key will get at least one more vote today. Mine was cast in London and it went his way for one reason: the Maori partnership.

Inviting the Maori Party into his government three years ago was a magnificent gesture from the leader of a party whose previous leader was hell-bent on abolishing the Maori seats. Accepting the invitation was equally brave of a party whose people had so long resided with Labour.

The right can do things in this area that the electorate would not accept from the left, for the same reason that the left can more easily do economic reform: people trust where the Government is coming from.


Over the past three years conservatives have become more comfortable with Maori political aspirations and the possibilities this raises for the country's future are important and exciting.

When the election's final result is declared this afternoon Key might need the Maori Party, but even if he doesn't the Maori are well placed to play a stronger hand. He wants them in again whether he needs them or not.

If he doesn't need them cynics will say, as they did last time, that he wants them as an investment for the day he does. But I read him differently. I think Key is someone who wants to do things for New Zealand while he has the chance.

He is not a political careerist. He is obviously enjoying public life but there are many other things he could afford to be enjoying. He knows the job has a natural duration and when its done he won't stay in Parliament.

He has been cautious so far, probably because he wanted more than one term. Now he is looking at another three years and quite likely six.

Six years is not long. If worthwhile things are to be done, they can't be left to a third term when the public will be tiring of the same faces and anything they have just done could be easily undone by their successors. If Key's government is to do lasting good, it needs to start now.

The deal he did with Act this week suggests he is ready to roll. Charter Schools is daring, as is a legislated cap on state spending. The Maori Party must have read that agreement with relish.

It is significant that the Maori have Ken Mair negotiating for them this time. They need to start making a mark too.

I don't know what Maori want from the opportunity that a multi-party system has opened up for them. Years of listening to protesters and witnessing the depth of the spirit of Maori sovereignty at Waitangi had led me to believe there was a distinct Maori identity that could express itself powerfully in our politics given the chance.

But I had to revise that view when the Mana Party appeared. Old Waitangi warriors like Hone Harawira and Annette Sykes declared they had more in common with Sue Bradford and John Minto than with Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples.

Class antagonism trumped Maori solidarity. They simply couldn't bear the National Party.

It is a depressing thought that the Maori electorate may be as conventionally divided as the general population, and additionally divided by tribe.

That is depressing if you believe as I do, that New Zealand would be a far more interesting place if Maori were a political force to be reckoned with.

It is depressing if you believe political power gives pride and confidence to people, doing more to lift their economic performance than all the hand-outs and job schemes in creation.

But I'm not giving up hope. The Maori Party remains in a position to give its people something impressive. It must do more for the preservation of te reo. The language is in decline despite the charter schools that Maori have had for years and the dedicated broadcasting services. Something drastic must be done.

I don't know whether the election campaign threw up any hints of what a second-term partnership might contain. The campaign was the first I have missed and my head feels clearer for that.

On the internet "tea-gate" made much less sense than the sweet sounds of my 6-month-old granddaughter who needed baby-sitting in Britain last month.

It is hard to know on the net how important anything is. I need to see the event in newspapers and on television to get a sense of its impact. The net has no resonance.

Key went to ridiculous lengths to suppress that conversation - surely a judge will not rule an election campaign stunt has privacy protection.

The word that Don Brash would not occupy a second Act seat in Parliament probably helped the party in Epsom. But who cares? It is the negotiation with Maori now that matters.