The opinions of white urban political commentators don’t matter to Hone Harawira right now. The only opinions he cares about this year are the opinions of the voters in the volatile Te Tai Tokerau electorate, where he’s seeking to reclaim the seat he narrowly lost to Labour’s Kelvin Davis in 2014.
While political commentators are rightly shaking their heads over Harawira’s recent call for Chinese methamphetamine importers to be executed, their headlines have only served to enhance Harawira’s election hopes. Hone was just throwing the media a bone, and as long as his name is in the headlines, he’s happy.
In 2014 Mana’s ill-fated union with Kim Dotcom’s Internet Party cost Harawira’s dearly in his electorate. Winston Peters, popular in the North, was the first to smell the blood in the water, and declared his public support for Kelvin Davis. Mana’s right wing opponents quietly followed Winston’s lead, and helped Davis edge out the incumbent by 743 votes. If Harawira’s had retained Te Tai Tokerau, Internet/ Mana’s 1.42% of total Party Vote would have brought Laila Harre back to Parliament on the Party List. Backing Kelvin Davis in Te Tai Tokerau was a brutally effective move to kneecap the Left.
Now Hone’s looking to get his old job back. This time he’s publically distanced himself from Dotcom, and more importantly, he’s regained Maori Party endorsement in the electorate, which could give him the crucial edge.
In the last election Davis garnered 9,712 votes, 743 more than Harawira’s tally of 8969. The Māori Party’s candidate Te Hira Paenga secured 2,579. The Maori Party and Harawira’s vote combined was miles ahead of Davis. Hone’s alliance with The Maori Party has changed the game dramatically.
Incumbency isn’t such an advantage in this electorate, where sitting MPs regularly get the boot. Harawira was MP for 9 years. He entered Parliament by trouncing second term local Labour MP Dover Samuels by over 3500 votes after Tariana Turia’s split with Labour over the Foreshore and Seabed Bill. Samuels had earlier won the electorate from Tau Henare in 1999, finishing miles ahead of the partyhopping sitting MP, who came a distant third. Yet only 3 years earlier Henare had secured Te Tai Tokerau with a margin of over 8000 votes.
The release of a controversial Internet Mana drug policy in the dying days of the 2014 campaign helped contribute to Harawira’s loss, so making big noises about executing Chinese P dealers will go down well with some Te Tai Tokerau voters who decided to support Davis at the last minute. Outrageous bluster is nothing new for Harawira, who got international headlines and policy traction in 2009 when he told Paul Holmes that he’d like to lynch tobacco company executives. Harawira’s aggressive bluster strategically complemented the more conciliatory approaches of Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples, who subsequently achieved policy gains in the area of tobacco control that wouldn’t have been made without Hone going for the jugular.
Kelvin Davis has been one of Labour’s best performers in recent years, and it would be a shame to lose his voice in Parliament. His mahi had guaranteed him an electable position on Labour’s list, so his decision to stand aside from the Party list and seek re-election purely as an electorate candidate was a big risk he didn’t need to take. Davis isn’t facing certain defeat by any means, he’s a hardworking MP with a good profile, and the Labour Party is very popular in the electorate, but he must be worried. Te Tai Tokerau could go either way, and the deal Hone Harawira has sealed with the Maori Party will likely prove the decisive factor.
Duncan Eddy is a Purakaunui writer and community activist. His latest publication, “The Stories Behind the Streetnames in Historic Port Chalmers” is available on request