WHAT I HEARD from Willie Jackson and Sandra Lee this morning (22/2/17) didn’t sound at all like “cross burning”. What I heard on RNZ’s “Morning Report” was a discussion about Maori need and the most effective ways to address it. I also heard some pretty frank criticism of the Maori elite and its principal political mouthpiece.
Neither Lee nor Jackson were willing to repudiate Andrew Little’s blunt refusal to accept the Maori Party’s political credentials. What they did repudiate was the selective historical memory of Tariana Turia and her ilk.
If Jackson’s recruitment encourages other Maori to speak out in similarly blunt terms about the true agenda of the Maori Party and the Iwi Leadership Group, then the electoral dividend for Labour will be substantial.
Because no about of social-liberal outrage can obscure the fact that the Maori Party long ago abandoned the cause of working-class Maori in favour of a neo-tribal capitalist system which is busy swelling the ranks of a new Maori professional and managerial class.
Not that such outrage isn’t extremely helpful. Without it, the crucial role which the Maori Party plays in blurring the edges of the National Party’s continuing assault upon the brown working-class might come into sharper focus.
By interposing themselves between National’s neoliberal economic policies and the people they purport to represent, the Maori Party not only protects its political patron from the consequences of its own social aggression; but it also furnishes its voters with “proof” of “their” party’s relevance and effectiveness.
The message is as simple as it is cynical: “Just imagine how bad things would be if we weren’t here to keep all those crazy conservative Pakehas from running wild!”
The Ratana Church’s Depression-era alliance with Labour was likely born out of a similar rationale. The big difference, of course, was that Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana joined forces with the Pakeha poor to end their common marginalisation at the hands of a ruling class made vicious by social fear and political rage. He knew that the ruling elites of both peoples could only be controlled by “the survivors” of colonialism and capitalism, brown and white, working together.
The Maori Party, by contrast, almost immediately shed its mass base in favour of a cross-cultural class alliance between the Maori and Pakeha elites. While the National Party’s accelerated Treaty settlement process helpfully expanded the Maori middle-class, the Maori Party maintained a deafening silence as neoliberal economic and social policies wreaked havoc upon its own people. It was a Devil’s bargain: in return for abandoning the constituency which had given the Maori Party birth, the National Party was growing it a new one.
It was this shameless collaborationism that drove Hone Harawira out of the Maori Party and into the cross-cultural alliance of Maori and Pakeha socialists that used to be Mana. Harawira wagered that his tactical association with Kim Dotcom’s Internet Party would provide Mana with a parliamentary beach-head larger than Te Tai Tokerau and sufficient List MPs to make a difference. He lost.
The kindest thing that might be said about Harawira’s latest gambit is that it is motivated solely by his determination to get Mana back into Parliament. The less kindly among us, however, might wonder aloud, as Sandra Lee did this morning, about the political efficacy of an agreement which debars Mana from standing in any Maori seat but Te Tai Tokerau, and which prohibits criticism of both the Maori Party’s record and its policies. Hone Harawira owes his followers a clearer explanation.
Social-liberal criticism (backing-up that of Turia and Pita Sharples) will, of course, focus on Labour’s handling of the foreshore and seabed issue.
In the best of all possible worlds the Court of Appeal’s unexpected decision would have been welcomed with open arms by a Labour Party determined to build upon and strengthen the Maori renaissance. Conveniently forgotten by Labour’s Maori and Pakeha critics, however, is the hostile political reception given to Helen Clark’s attempt to do just that.
The National Party had attacked Labour’s “Closing the Gaps” policy relentlessly – not hesitating to wake up the sleeping dogs of Pakeha racism if that was what it took to reclaim the Treasury Benches.
Already spooked by the “Winter of Discontent” of 2000 (when New Zealand’s leading capitalists threatened the new Labour-led government with a full-scale investment strike if Clark and her Finance Minister, Michael Cullen, refused to rein-in the radical expectations of their Alliance coalition partner) the Labour prime minister took another step back and hastily abandoned the term, if not the substance of, “Closing the Gaps”. She was in no mood to let the National Party hang the Court of Appeal’s judgement around her neck and sink Labour’s chances of winning the 2005 election.
That Labour’s Foreshore & Seabed Act (2004) was in practical terms indistinguishable from the Marine & Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act (2011) which Tariana Turia accepted without protest from her National Party allies seven years later, speaks volumes about the lengths to which Clark, Cullen and Labour’s Maori caucus were prepared to go to protect Maori interests – even as they were being pilloried as the reincarnation of the nineteenth century’s most hateful colonialists.
Those who have spent the last 48 hours condemning Andrew Little for his attack on the Maori Party would undoubtedly benefit from watching the movie All The Way. Covering Lyndon Johnson’s first year as President of the USA (1963-1964) it is a riveting portrayal of just how difficult it is to challenge the racist expectations of an overwhelmingly white electorate – let alone overcome them.
To remind passionate seekers-after-change that politics is “the art of the possible” is to repeat a cliché they have heard many times before. Repetition does not, however, make it any the less true. To win power, Andrew Little needs the Maori working-class to remain loyal to Labour. That will not happen if the Maori Party is allowed to paint every expression of Pakeha political criticism as “racist”, and to dismiss every left-wing Maori critic as an “Uncle Tom”.
As Lyndon Johnson put it to his tender-hearted liberal running-mate, Hubert Humphrey: “Principles? Principles! Dammit! This isn’t about principles – it’s about votes!”