Political Roundup: Labour’s reorientation to working class Māori

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In recent decades the Labour Party has lost its traditional connection with working class voters, becoming more of a middle class party of liberalism.

This is especially true of Labour’s historic connection with working class Māori. This is a constituency that the party used to monopolise. But ever since the days of Rogernomics, the Māori working class base of the party started to lose faith in Labour.

Politicians like Matiu Rata and Sandra Lee split and shifted to alternative political vehicles like Mana Motuhake and the Alliance. Then New Zealand First won all the Māori electorate seats in 1996. And, after Labour regained these seats, the newly-formed Māori Party won most of them off Labour in 2008.

This means that for the last few decades Labour hasn’t been able to count on the Māori vote, and it has also had to come to grips with a Māori electorate that is far from a monolith, with the same political preferences. A growing Māori middle class and iwi elite have very different aspirations and policy preferences to working class Māori.

The “Bread and butter” concerns of working class Māori

Within Māoridom there is a tension between the desire to focus on working class “bread and butter” issues like inequality, poverty, education, healthcare, and housing, and a more culturalist approach focused on the Treaty of Waitangi and bicultural constitutional arrangements.

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The Labour Party is most successful with the Māori electorate when it orientates towards the working class concerns of Māori voters. The party’s historic belief in universalism and leftwing policies to lift up those at the bottom of the pile regardless of race resonates with their traditional working class Māori base.

For example, the last public polling of Māori, undertaken by Horizon Research for The Hui early last year, showed most Māori voters have very similar views to non-Māori voters in wanting the government to deliver the basics – especially an improved standard of living.

When asked which issues will most influence their voting choice at the 2023 election, 72 per cent of Māori respondents chose “Cost of living”, followed by housing, health, Covid, poverty, economy, employment, education, and environment. Only 32 per cent chose “Tiriti o Waitangi Settlements” as influencing their vote.

Notably, the same poll showed that support for Labour had plummeted amongst Māori. 54 per cent said that they had voted Labour in 2020, but only 37 per cent said they intended to choose Labour in 2023.

What changed for Māori voters since the Labour Government was elected in 2017 and then re-elected for a second term in 2020?

The most obvious shift has been a change of orientation away from working class Māori concerns towards more middle class or elite Māori policies after 2020.

Labour does best when it orientates to working class Māori and universalism

Willie Jackson ran Labour’s 2017 campaign and he was determined that Labour’s messaging to Māori voters was not going to be about culture and symbolism and the Treaty, but “bread and butter” issues like improving health, education, employment and poverty. Labour swept to victory in all seven Māori seats, which helped them win the Beehive.

Projecting a traditional leftwing orientation to Māori voters worked. At the first Waitangi Day after forming the new Government, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made a speech in which she signalled that her Government was departing from the traditional culturalist and race-based approach to dealing with Māori deprivation and economic inequality.

Ardern stated that the new Government would take a universalistic approach to inequality – targeting everyone at the bottom, rather than specifically targeting Māori. She strongly emphasised the need to deal with the long list of social ills that have a disproportionate impact on Māori, but signalled that race-based methods were not the best way forward.

The prime minister explained that “We are specifically targeting things like poverty. An actual by-product of that is it will positively impact Māori.” Similarly, Finance Minister Grant Robertson refuted that Labour would take an approach of “targeting Māori” and instead said that “Our focus is on reducing inequality overall”, and stressed that the focus would be on programmes that were universal rather than race-based.

Essentially, this new approach under Labour meant directing resources and solutions to poor Māori “because they are poor” rather than “because they are Māori”.

Labour’s deviation from delivering universalism

In the second term of the Ardern-Robertson government, Labour moved away from this approach and towards one that has been characterised as being about “co-governance” and fulfilling the needs of the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Rights, which also led to the He Puapua report developed for Labour on constitutional reform. Other reforms had a radical bicultural element to them, such as the new Māori Health Authority.

The key part of this co-governance approach has been the Three Waters reforms, designed by former Local Government minister Nanaia Mahuta. In this, the newly amalgamated water corporates would be 50 per cent controlled by iwi.

Arguably, this shift towards co-governance and culturalist politics is one that is geared more towards Māori elites than working class Māori. Mahuta has been a key figure in shifting Labour back towards iwi politics, and with it the more elite concerns of sovereignty and culture.

A return to Māori working class politics?

With the changing of the guard from Ardern to new leader Chris Hipkins, Labour and the Government are trying to reset its policy programme and orientation away from unpopular reforms such as water co-governance. Hipkins himself has signalled that he wants his administration to be less woke and more working class.

This means ditching some of the more middle class liberal reforms such as co-governance. And Mahuta’s demotion has been part of this. She was stripped of her Local Government portfolio last week, and pushed down the Cabinet rankings, from her front-bench #8 slot to only #16, essentially giving her the message that her time is over. The public has hardly heard from her since – interestingly, Mahuta was meant to give a speech to foreign diplomats at Waitangi, but cancelled at the last moment without explanation.

This shift also means jettisoning Labour’s recent strong alliance with tribal leaders. This was evident over the weekend at Waitangi, when the PM and ministers met with the elite Iwi Chairs Forum.

According to reporting yesterday from Richard Harman, “it is clear that the Hipkins Government will bring the Three Waters legislation back to the debating Chamber to remove the co-governance proposal”.

The new role of Willie Jackson in re-orientating Labour towards working class Māori

It appears that Hipkins stood up to iwi leaders over the jettisoning of Three Waters co-governance, refusing to countenance their objections. Harman reports: “the Government responded with the usually-blunt Willie Jackson, now elevated above Mahuta in the Cabinet, who told the chairs they would have to understand they either supported the government as it moved to water down co-governance or, if they didn’t, they would end up enabling National-ACT government.”

Jackson is now the senior Māori Labour MP – although Kelvin Davis is still deputy leader, this is more as a figurehead position – and will be calling the shots on Labour’s class orientation. He’s made it clear he thinks Labour needs to go back towards working class politics, and away from tribal politics.

Jackson told Newsroom’s Jo Moir that co-governance has “become so tainted”, and he explained that he’s asked iwi leaders “to have a pragmatic look at things”. Moir reports that his message to iwi leaders was to “work with us or you work against us”.

Moir explains that “Jackson has a long-established track record of calling out iwi leaders for not being representative of all Māori”, and she reports that he is once again stating that tribal leaders are not so important for Labour’s decision-making. Jackson told her: “The iwi perspective is one perspective and it’s important, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.” Furthermore, Jackson says: “I don’t live my life around whether iwi leaders say yes or no – they don’t represent me in Auckland… We’re represented by urban authorities and people at the coal face, and we don’t live or die on what the iwi leaders say.”

This is quite a shift in orientation for Labour. Moir explains that Jackson is on board with Hipkins’ shift back towards more working class concerns, including for Māori: “while Three Waters and co-governance is important, he says it isn’t the driving issue for most Māori. That continues to be ‘bread and butter issues’ like housing, education, health, and the economy.”

As to what will happen with co-governance, Jackson is now emphasising that it doesn’t have to be as radical and significant as it’s become – for example, he says: “It’s where a Māori voice is required, and it doesn’t have to be a 50/50 representation”.

A working class focus means less co-governance for Labour

Hipkins himself talked about co-governance over the weekend, but has also started to position it much like the National Party does – as something that is appropriate in certain instances, but not necessary for everything that a government does. Hipkins’ favourite explanation of the merits of co-governance is in line with National leader Christopher Luxon – that it is appropriate for co-management of natural resources.

The tide appears to be turning against the use of parallel bi-cultural institutions and co-governance in the delivery of public services. Another Labour politician leading this charge is David Parker, who pushed back strongly late last year, saying that he had resisted the pressure to include co-governance elements in the new resource management reforms.

The Government’s apparent shift away from co-governance and the concerns of iwi elites is unlikely to cause much strife for Labour. Working class voters – regardless of whether they are Māori or pakeha – are more interested in whether Labour is successfully combating the cost of living crisis and delivering decent housing, education and healthcare.

It was interesting that during the Waitangi weekend there were no apparent protests against Labour’s looming cancellation or watering down of Three Waters co-governance.

Notably, however, there was one major Māori protest at Waitangi. It wasn’t about sovereignty, te Tiriti, or constitutional reform, but instead about the cost of living crisis. This is clearly where Labour will need to focus if it wants to win back working class Māori support.

Other items of interest and importance today

CO-GOVERNANCE, WAITANGI
Jo Moir (Newsroom): Reframing co-governance: Jackson’s warning to Labour
Jayden Holmes (Today FM): ‘Ship has sailed’ – Willie Jackson on explaining co-governance to the public
Alexander Gillespie, Claire Breen and Valmaine Toki (The Conversation): Waitangi Day 2023: why Article 3 of the Treaty deserves more attention in the age of ‘co-governance’
Paul Spoonley (Herald): 183 years after the Treaty of Waitangi, let’s stop talking about racism and start addressing it
Don Brash: New Zealand is reaching a crisis point
Jamie Ensor (Newshub): Christopher Luxon defends not being at Waitangi on Waitangi Day, now calls NZ’s founding a ‘brave experiment’
Stuff: David Seymour steals the show at Waitangi, but most politicians need reo help
Karl du Fresne: What New Zealanders (that is to say, ordinary New Zealanders) think about the name Aotearoa
Kate Hawkesby (Newstalk ZB): People are choosing to ignore Waitangi Day because of petty point scoring
Peter de Graaf (Northern Advocate): Ngāpuhi’s Mere Mangu sparks controversy — again — by speaking during Waitangi welcome

PARLIAMENT
Thomas Coughlan (Herald): David Seymour warns universal rights replaced by rights determined by race
Russell Palmer (RNZ): ACT’s Seymour targets National, co-governance in speech
Jamie Ensor (Newshub): David Seymour takes swings at Christopher Luxon, Chris Hipkins in major speech
Laura Tupou (Newshub): David Seymour believes Māori chiefs who signed te Tiriti would be ACT supporters – Te Pāti Māori not impressed
Liam Hehir (The Blue Review): Mr Fixit or Mr Front It?
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): The latest Roy Morgan Poll – Labour up, National down – Maori Party/NZ First Kingmakers
David Farrar: `How has Labour’s Class of 2017 gone?
Brigitte Morten (NBR): Fight for Auckland to define 2023 election (paywalled)
Harry Robson (Democracy Project): Hipkins’ opportunity to bring Labour back to its roots
Grant Duncan: Who do you trust?
Paul Spoonley (Stuff): A year on from the occupation at Parliament, what has changed?
Deborah Morris (Stuff): Parliament protest’s month-long party leaves courts a year-long hangover
RNZ: Impact of Parliament protests still being felt in the Thorndon and Pipitea community
Michael Reddell: Reappointing Orr – some documents

FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Luke Malpass (Stuff): Chris Hipkins’ Albanese meeting a reminder that he’s brand new to the job
Sam Sachdeva (Newsroom): Hipkins’ energy – and inexperience – on display in Australia visit
Heather du Plessis-Allan (Newstalk): Australia’s unlikely to budge on the 501s
Pattrick Smellie (BusinessDesk): Trainer wheels on for Chris Hipkins in Canberra (paywalled)
Claire Trevett (Herald): When Chippy met Albo: How did PM Chris Hipkins go on his trip to Australia to meet Anthony Albanese? (paywalled)
Felix Desmarais (1News): Hipkins-Albanese meeting a promising start for trans-Tasman kinship
Thomas Coughlan and Claire Trevett (Herald): Deportations, China dominate Chris Hipkins’ first official overseas visit as PM
1News: Hipkins backs anti-nuclear pledge in Albanese talks
Luke Malpass (Stuff): PM Chris Hipkins and Australia’s Anthony Albanese meet in Canberra
Herald: PM Chris Hipkins meets Australia PM Anthony Albanese in Canberra
1News: ‘Good to see ya … g’day’ – PMs Hipkins and Albanese meet
Stewart Sowman-Lund (Spinoff): When Chippy met Albo: The PM’s six-hour whirlwind tour of Canberra
Stefan Dimitrof (Whakaata Māori): Minister Nanaia Mahuta heading to India to strengthen ties
Herald: Kiwi pilot reportedly taken hostage in Papua by separatist fighters
RNZ: New Zealand pilot taken hostage in Indonesia
Spinoff: NZ pledges $1.5m humanitarian aid in earthquake-stricken Turkey and Syria
Rachel Smalley (Today FM): New Zealand can offer so much more – It’s our turn to return the favour
Lloyd Burr (Today FM): Turkey deserves more than a token NZ$1 million
Grady Connell (Today FM): What’s expected to come from Nanaia Mahuta’s visit to India

AUCKLAND FLOODS, COUNCIL, CLIMATE CHANGE
Tova O’Brien (Today FM): There’s no right to remain silent for politicians and officials
Todd Niall (Stuff): The unexpected flood damage to Auckland council’s next budget
RNZ: Deputy backs Wayne Brown’s view flooding will affect Auckland Council budget
Oliver Lewis (BusinessDesk): Auckland council looking for airport sell-down advisers (paywalled)
Gill Bonnett (RNZ): ‘There’s a lot of fear out there’: Call for Royal Commission on Auckland floods
RNZ: Inquiry to review performance of all officials involved in response phase
Giles Dexter (RNZ): Govt payments to help flood-hit Aucklanders inadequate for many, Greens say
Matthew Theunissen (RNZ): Auckland flooding: ‘Our anger this time is the lack of response’ – West Auckland residents
Rebecca Stevenson (Interest): Suncorp says full scale of Auckland disaster ‘yet to be realised’
Olivia Wannan (Stuff): Climate change added 2-4cm of rain to Auckland’s storm, researcher says
Colleen Hawkes (Stuff): Auckland should follow Paris, Toronto, Melbourne, and Singapore to better prevent flooding, experts say
Cheryl Adamson (Herald): Auckland needs a colonic irrigation (paywalled)

BUSINESS, EMPLOYMENT, ECONOMY
Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): IR asked 80,000 people to return Cost of Living Payment. Only 2772 did so
Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Acid test coming for Labour’s relationship with business
Philippa Tolley (Stuff): Fair pay agreements an epic shift in NZ’s employment system you might have missed
Susan Hornsby-Geluk (Stuff): NZ and UK taking different approaches to resolving public sector pay disputes
Sasha Borissenko (Herald): Will a draft law end up protecting subbies if the construction sector dives? (paywalled)
Will Trafford (Whakaata Māori): Iwi assets soar but gloomy outlook forecast
Jenée Tibshraeny (Herald): RBNZ Board assures Robertson Orr will promote a ‘safe environment for debate’ (paywalled)
Amy Wiliams (RNZ): Financial hardship: ‘The banks aren’t helping them when they’re struggling’
Herald Editorial: Troubling debt levels in essential sector (paywalled)
Mike Hosking (Newstalk ZB): We’re overdue to make calls around insurance and building
Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Bid to stop GST going on Airbnbs and Uber suffers setback
Rob Stock (Stuff): Mindful Money asks KiwiSaver funds to sell investments linked to Myanmar military
Tina Morrison (Stuff): Air NZ brings on more partners to help it develop a zero emissions regional fleet
Debbie Jamieson (Stuff): Ngāi Tahu opposed to request for 40-year concession for Remarkables Ski Area

HEALTH
Robin Gauld (The Conversation): NZ’s health system has been under pressure for decades. Reforms need to think big and long-term to be effective
Esther Willing (Newsroom): Time has come for free access to GPs and dentists
Damien Venuto (Herald): Is NZ getting enough value from its $30 billion health budget?
Marc Daalder (Newsroom): Covid-19 health funding quietly halved
RNZ: Covid-19 update: 8882 new cases, 26 deaths and 161 in hospital
Murray Jones (BusinessDesk): The firms that supplied NZ with critical antivirus gear during covid
Murray Jones (BusinessDesk): Covid delivered 3M a 2,400% profit increase in NZ
Martyn Fields (ODT): Former clinical director: hospital plan was only adequate, so where are we now?
Cécile Meier (BusinessDesk): Who owns our GPs? You might be surprised
Stephen Forbes (Local Democracy Reporting): Frontline healthcare workers battle Middlemore ED’s chronic staffing shortages
Kristie Boland (Stuff): Te Whatu Ora commissioning independent review into major power outage at hospital
John Lewis (ODT): Researchers call for axing of script fee
Hannah Martin (Stuff): Scrapping $5 prescription fee could help improve Kiwis’ health outcomes – study
RNZ: ‘Free’ prescriptions will have long-term costs – pharmacists

EDUCATION
John Gerritsen (RNZ): Spike in truancy at schools in 2021 driven by Covid-19 restrictions, some principals say
The Facts: >100,000 Kiwi kids (~20%) are not going to school each day
John Gerritsen (RNZ): Call for free school lunches to be extended to more children
Tom Kitchin (RNZ): Are foreign students coming back?
Sarah Aiono (Stuff): The new education minister will need her lessons from the chalkface
Carol Mutch (Newsroom): Another crisis, another responsibility for schools
Shanti Mathias (Spinoff): How worried are universities about ChatGPT?
Kristie Boland (Stuff): Ngāi Tūāhuriri says AUT misused te reo Māori to ‘self-promote their interests’

HOUSING
Malcolm McCracken: The ripple effect – why we need new housing at all levels of the market
Dita De Boni (NBR): Housing intensification: Right in the wrong direction (paywalled)
Carmen Hall (Herald): Accommodation supplement under fire for not keeping up with rents and causing financial hardship (paywalled)
Steven Minto (Daily Blog): Greens inconsistency on housing shows their lack of strategic thinking
Oliver Lewis (BusinessDesk): Community housing sector wants funding and policy certainty (paywalled)
Marc Daalder (Newsroom): Māori disproportionately exposed to flood risk
Hamish McNeilly (Stuff): Up to 1000 new homes possible in new greenfield zones approved for Dunedin
RNZ: Dunedin greenlights new residential zones, forecasts for housing surplus
Aaron Hendry (Newsroom): Climate justice and the right to housing are the same fight
Avina Vidyadharan (Stuff): ‘Unique’ purchase sees Kāinga Ora buy $20m, 27-unit property in north Hamilton
Heidi Bendrikson (Stuff): ‘Honestly I just don’t know why I did it’: Our oldest population is losing money, by buying into retirement villages

TVNZ-RNZ MERGER
Thomas Coughlan (Herald): TVNZ-RNZ merger on the block, as Cabinet meets to consider first ‘reprioritisations’
Tim Murphy (Newsroom): TVNZ merger response raises eyebrows

6 COMMENTS

  1. So maybe there’s good news for vulnerable children if Sepuloni and Davis have a change of heart about shafting the Commissioner for Children.

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