Labour’s Not Burning Crosses – It’s Gathering Votes


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.

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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!”


  1. Personal political advancement became what drove Tariana and the
    M Party, hence the lack of success in dealing with increasing poverty for many Maori.
    This issue remains unsolved and will require a very organised and committed Government to take the lead for future generations.
    It is not something that tax cuts will solve.

    • I don’t think Tariana was driven by desire for personal advancement, although vanity no doubt played a part. Somehow she felt personally betrayed when Helen Clark asked for her support over the Seabed and Foreshore that over the years mutated into an out-of-proportion loathing.

      It was this antipathy which prompted her to accept a virtual clone of a Key promoted Seashore Bill. She was now without options and could easily be bought off with a placebo Pilot Programme: Whanauora. Not a bad idea but fatally damaged by underfunding, white-anting in high places and a few crackpot notions that Turia could not quite shake that tied the programme to tribal domination and under-accountability.

      The effectiveness of the linking of the Maori Party to national’s coattails beyond their two reps is seen in the likelihood at each election that they disappear completely.

      Slightly aside from this and granted that there seems no interest among Maori for the idea, the truth is, if Maori seats disappeared and the large number of Maori were on the general role, their interests would be way more front and centre with way more MPs. Rather than a path to enhanced representation, the current situation looks more like Gerrymandered seats in the Southern States with all Democrats locked up in gulag electorates, thus maximizing representation for the white, usually conservative, voter.

      A Maori Voter diaspora would reinvigorate Maori participation in general politics and ultimately give them more say than provided, counterintuitively, by dedicated Maori electorates.

      • Agree with your points on Turia and the political drift of the Māori Party. I’m not strongly for or against the Māori electorates. I just see it as a choice for Māori to make. If and when they feel they can be properly represented by Māori list MPs or by getting more Māori into general electorates, they will stop signing onto the Māori roll. For as long as enough of them sign up to the Māori roll to justify even a single electorate, then Māori seats have a place, whether rich old pākeha like Don Brash like it or not.

  2. Not wishing to sound offensive, how old are Willie Jackson and Sandra Lee? Are they the type of politician that may get the many young Maori non voters interested in politics and get them out to vote, or will they perhaps rather make very little difference over all.

    Willie has been on Radio Live(ing Dead) talk back for very many years, while some seem to like him, many do hate or dislike him.

    He is just one character, and while he may be doing some good social work – together with his wife, I cannot see him making all that much of a difference in getting more votes for Labour.

    Almost every person I ever talk to, they tend to ask, what does Labour actually stand for, and what is their policy.

  3. I feel that the “poor” vs the “rich” narrative is not working for the left, or the part of the left that employs it.

    It alienates leftists who might be less than poor.

    Many poor people who have not been sucked in by prosperity propaganda may be leftists brought to that position, and perhaps action, by experience – I’m thinking of “I, Daniel Blake”.

    Others may be deeply sympathetic, but the constant calling out of them on the basis of their financial situation (maybe they made their money legitimately and ethically?) alienates, in much the same way I think the “identitarians” alienate otherwise sympathetic men.

    I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s unhelpful. We are trying for a kind society. That means we need to be kinder and more sympathetic in general and avoid divisiveness between perceived groupings.

    • Only thing is Dave without sounding devisive. That many rich don’t have a clue. They stay in there bubbles and don’t mix with the hoy pa loy… I think this is due to inequality and they are so far removed from the bottom. I think reduce inequality then you will see a more cohesive society and you cannot do it by the Natz individual prosperity as the re are always winners and losers in a dog eat dog society. It needs to come from above via redistrabution and Capital gains tax.

  4. The Clark government would have been damned totally by white racists if Maori equality was allowed. This is the first time I’ve heard a white guy say it.

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