Labour received a battering at Ratana township yesterday as National and the Maori Party continue to bask in popularity after more than a year in office together.

Labour was challenged to reciprocate the loyalty shown to it from Ratana for decades by accepting four Ratana candidates for winnable positions in Parliament - on the list.

To rub his nose in it, Labour leader Phil Goff had to endure a speech praising Prime Minister John Key for being "a brilliant speaker" and "a person who should be admired".

And Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples was welcomed in the morning, with him telling Ratana that the Maori Party was their party - it holds five of the seven Maori electorate seats.

Mr Goff rejected the suggestion of greater Ratana representation in the Labour caucus, other than on merit.

"A seat in Parliament on the list is something that comes from merit and working and gaining the respect of your peers. It is not appointed by the leader or the president and that's the way it should be."

He said the relationship with the Ratana movement, which was founded in 1936, was no "fad" and had stood the test of time.

The head of the church, or Tumuaki, Haare Meihana, supports Labour. He does not advise followers to vote for Labour. Despite his support it is clear the relationship is in trouble.

Ratana spokesman and a son of Mr Meihana, Andre Meihana, said after Labour's powhiri there would be a meeting shortly to decide whether to continue with the alliance.

Ratana minister Kereama Pene, who delivered the critical speech, was told by Labour MP Shane Jones he should stick to ministering.

Mr Pene told the Herald that Labour had missed the message. "This is quite serious," he said.

Mr Pene said "a real relationship is born out of truth, a real relationship is born out of respect for each other".

He spoke about the "pain and frustration" of the Tumuaki.

Mr Goff led a contingent of about 40 on to the marae, including 20 MPs, for the annual birthday celebrations of the church's founder, Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana.

Labour tried to downplay the criticism. Mr Jones suggested it was part of the banter that goes on at powhiri and MP Parekura Horomia hit out at what he called the "vampires of the press".

But privately they know there is a much bigger job to do to maintain the relationship.

While the caucus received a frosty reception from some speakers, Mr Goff received a warm personal welcome from some of the Ratana followers.

Dr Sharples said he had told Ratana followers: "We have a proverb in Maori that the kumara should not speak of its own sweetness. But it is very hard for me not to do that because I am your party, we are your party, the Maori Party is your party."

He reminded them the Maori Party had an agreement with National to set up a review of the constitution and the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in it.

"It told them that that group will run the show but you have got to do the talking.

Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta arrived with her baby son and went on with the Maori King, Tuheitia, and the Waikato-Tainui group.

She is having her son, Waiwaia Nukutawhiti Mahuta, baptised today at the Ratana temple. Her great grandmother was a Ratana.