Parekura Horomia’s personal popularity in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti electorate had given Labour such a huge majority that it was deemed impossible to overcome in yesterday’s byelection so by conventional wisdom the election was Labour’s to lose and the real race was for second between Mana and the Maori Party.
And so it turned out to be with Labour – on 45% of the vote – gaining a comfortable win over Mana (25%) and the Maori Party (20%) but with a much reduced majority.
Parekura’s presence still weighed heavily on the electorate and as the largest party Labour was able to pour profile, people and resources into a single electorate which they are unable to do in a general election.
I predicted two weeks ago that Mana was the party to watch (not just because I’m a co-vice President of Mana) after spending a day canvassing in Gisborne and I’ve no doubt my experience there will be reflected in votes for Mana in this Te Hamua Nikora stronghold.
So what does the election mean for each of the parties?
Despite the win Labour continues its long slow decline which has been evident for several years now. Instead of revitalizing and rejuvenating itself with a move to the left after its 2008 election defeat the party stills clings fearfully to the same market-based, neo-liberal policies which have hammered so many of its natural supporters.
Labour is running on empty, nervous of further decline but more fearful of what business will say if it adopts worker-friendly policies. The party is scared of its own shadow. It’s still held in the grip of its 1980s MPs who, by refusing to abandon policies which drive inequality, are fighting for their political legacy. They are in denial that all of their political lives have been a betrayal of traditional Labour supporters.
The Maori Party also continues its decline after getting into bed with National in 2008. Prime Minister John Key even endorsed the Maori Party candidate Na Raihania in the byelection which probably lost Na a few more votes. He was second last time – third this time. The Maori Party could be looking at electoral oblivion next year with Tariana Turia retiring, Te Ururoa Flavell likely to be defeated by Mana President Annette Sykes in Waiariki and Pita Sharples facing a determined challenge from both Mana and Labour in Tamaki Makaurau.
Some commentators have suggested Mana and the Maori Party get together because they say there is only room for one independent Maori Party in parliament. (Why does no-one suggest there is no room for two Pakeha parties?)
It all comes down to policy and these parties have diverged significantly since Hone Harawira left the Maori Party. Getting together again would be possible however if the Maori Party adapted its policies to the more broadly supported Mana policies.
For Green candidate Marama Davidson the election was a personal victory. She will have ensured herself a winnable list placing for next year’s general election.
I think the most exciting development from the election was Mana candidate Te Hamua Nikora’s ability to enthuse and engage young Maori about politics.
I wrote recently that the problem with New Zealanders is not so much apathy about politics but disillusionment that they can change anything by voting. Te Hamua has shown young Maori at least a different view. Through his larger than life personality, his enthusiastic use of social media and his “I’m not a C.E.O – I’m a B.R.O” approach he brought a welcome breath of fresh air to politics for young New Zealanders.
Let’s hope it’s the start of a trend.