A change in alliance before 2017 could help Labour and Maori.

After five years as the Invisible Man's doppelganger, Te Tai Tonga MP Rino Tirikatene has finally broken out.

The trigger was the Budget tax on smoking. His chosen dance floor was Twitter. In person, Tirikatene is a shambling, genial, diffident character. It was akin to watching the Incredible Hulk hulk out.

He started by saying the Maori Party "are slowly turning Aotearoa into a kuia state". On and on he went, using the hashtag #kuiastate (Nanny State) for each tweet.

He was only goaded further when Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox pointed out that Labour was in fact voting for this "kuia state" measure.


Other tweets included Act leader David Seymour's speech on the Budget: "Quick nurse, more novocaine."

When another tweeter accused him of "having fun at the taxpayer's expense" an unrepentant Tirikatene responded: "I particularly like spending your miniscule portion of tax while I'm here. It won't make you happy but, hei aha."

The reason for the flurry was a prod from his leader to lift his game. He did it so effectively he ended up being told to rein it in again, mostly over his jibes about the Pew Foundation's advocacy for the Kermadecs marine sanctuary.

Twitter has long been a soapbox for the oppressed backbench MP. The emergence of Tirikatene as an unsanitised force in this field is quite a relief. Political twitter hasn't been the same since the days of former National MP Tau Henare and former NZ First MP Asenati Lole-Taylor. Tirikatene is more articulate - he could even be heading into Shane Jones' territory in terms of exuberant insults.

The Maori Party hase been his primary target. On the Maori fisheries legal challenge over the Kermadecs, he quipped "their mouths are too full of crayfish to care". On funding for Te Puea Marae to house the homeless, his verdict was: "Talk Maori. Act Pakeha."

There is now talk in Labour circles about whether it can exterminate the Maori Party altogether by wedging Te Ururoa Flavell out of its sole remaining seat of Waiariki.

What the Maori Party sees as credit, National knows some will see as blame - and it suits National to let the Maori Party take the blame.

Labour might want to be careful what it wishes for. At the moment, the Maori Party is the enemy because it is in Government. Even worse, it is in Government with the National Party.

Yet the Maori Party could end up being the solution to a tricky problem for Labour. There are scenarios in which the Maori Party could give Labour and the Greens the extra numbers they need to get into Government without having to go to Winston Peters. Andrew Little could well find himself bracing to knock on the Maori Party's door, come 2017.


That could also be a saving grace for the Maori Party. The party leaders have admitted it has suffered from its alignment with National. That is one of the reasons it lost those Maori seats - and a swathe of support across Maoridom, which is overwhelmingly Labour-friendly.

It is not as unlikely a marriage as it seems. In terms of policy, the Maori Party can play snap with the Green Party more than any other party. And there are other factors that would make such a deal possible. The first is a changing of the guard in both parties.

Dame Tariana Turia has left, and some of the historic bitterness between the Maori Party and Labour MPs will have eased. In Labour, Nanaia Mahuta is the only Maori MP left who was in Labour at the time of the Foreshore and Seabed Act. Time heals all wounds.

New co-leader Marama Fox has also made an impact. She is hardly a shrinking violet. She is less cautious than Flavell when it comes to criticising National. Her own heartland is on the left and she has won Labour friends for not only supporting Labour members' bills such as the Healthy Homes Bill, Paid Parental Leave and employment law bills, but doing so publicly and loudly. The Maori Party has also sided with Labour on issues such as the Trans Pacific Partnership and employment law changes.

Fox could well prove to be the party's desperately needed second wind - and a bridge back to the left.

Thus far, the Maori Party has not had to choose between a National and Labour government. Its only choices have been whether to support National or go into Opposition. National would have been able to form a Government without its support in 2008, 2011, and 2014.

But if the Maori Party did hold the balance of power and was in the position of anointing a Labour or National Government, it would be crucified by what remained of its support base if it did not go with Labour. Fox knows that.

An alliance with Labour could also help the Maori Party get back some of its support.

The party needs to make it clear to its supporters that Labour would be its first choice in such a situation if it is to survive the 2017 election with more than one MP.

That might cause its leadership some qualms given they have now built strong relationships within National. There is an inevitable sense of loyalty that comes from that. But loyalty is an unaffordable commodity in MMP.

There is another scenario in which the Maori Party could find that out in brutal fashion. That is, if National needs Peters' NZ First to form a Government.

One of the reasons Peters has given for his reluctance to govern with the Green Party is because its policies amount to "separatism". If there is one party Peters thinks is more separatist than the Greens, it is the Maori Party.

Nor does Peters like social engineering or "nanny state" measures. In that respect, Tirikatene's "kuia state" comments were not exactly inaccurate.

When outlining the latest anti-smoking measures, Finance Minister Bill English made sure to emphasise that credit for it was due to the Maori Party. Because what the Maori Party sees as credit, National knows some will see as blame - and it suits National to let the Maori Party take the blame. The Maori Party could well find out that the price for Peters' support is itself.

However reluctant some in National might be, if that is the indeed the price of governing, National will end its happy arrangement with the Maori Party with an instruction to exit stage left and thanks for the memories.