Maori Party: personal politics
While National's irrelevant pair of lap dogs will be formally spooned out their little ration of pet food into their bowls later today by their master, the Maori Party is scrapping for the bones under the table:
The Maori Party hui over a proposed confidence and supply agreement with National began last night but ministerial positions would not be discussed, Maori Party president Pem Bird told the Herald.
It is understood that National has told Mr Bird and his fellow negotiator, vice-president Ken Mair, that the Maori Party can decide whether to put up co-leader Pita Sharples or Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell for a ministerial post alongside co-leader Tariana Turia.
National would not be concerned if Dr Sharples kept his Maori Affairs portfolio but lost the leadership to Mr Flavell. It would also be comfortable if Mr Flavell were made co-leader and held a ministerial position.
But not both - National won't put up with all three Maori Party MPs as Ministers as that is far too much baubleage to justify.
I blogged on the leadership a few times at the beginning of the year when the foreshore and seabed deal was going through and Hone Harawira was being shunted out. I could see the writing on the wall and asked Te Ururoa directly what his leadership intentions were and why he was trying to oust Hone. Firstly he stated that the reason he was trying to discipline Hone was personal. This I actually believe - it was personal.
Secondly he rejected the claim I put to him that he was getting rid of Hone because he wanted the co-leadership. I asked him who the next male leader would be if they got rid of Hone? He said that "you never know." It was quite clear to me what was going on and what his agenda was back then. It seems he has wasted no time in putting the knife into Pita to achieve his personal goal.
He got rid of Hone because that was his challenger to the leadership - and he knew he couldn't take it against such a personality and so he took offence and outrage of a personal nature and when Hone started to organise at a flax roots level against his expulsion he (and the others in the party) realised he would win and so they acted to cut him off at the pass.
I expected Pita to stand down with maybe a year to go and for Te Ururoa to take over at that point; but rolling Pita before the specials have even been counted - that's ruthless. No wonder there is talk that a by-election may take place if Pita loses his portfolios. I know that the Nats greatly admire Te Ururoa based on his willingness to completely and utterly sell-out to them, so they will be encouraging this behind the scenes having already established in his own mind his competence and suitability for ministerial rank.
I was at a gathering yesterday and it was announced there that a Maori Party hui would be held this week in town to discuss a deal with National. My sounding is that the older, conservative, more corporately-inclined members still left in the Maori Party will go with National again. The younger and "radical" ones had left to help Hone form the Mana movement so resistance to supporting the Tories and their right-wing policies will not be evident at these Maori Party hui. They have few qualms about privatising state assets as long as Iwi get a look in - however small.
Dr Sharples, who is in his 70s, won the seat by just 746 votes from Labour's Shane Jones on November 26 and it is unlikely he would have stood if he knew he would be on the backbenches.
Mr Bird is from Mr Flavell's Waiariki electorate and last week said he would expect Mr Flavell to have a ministerial post if he were co-leader as well.
It is not clear whether a leadership coup against Dr Sharples is under way with the possible support of co-leader Tariana Turia.
Mr Bird and Mr Mair have suggested that the endorsement of the co-leadership by the party executive - as required under the constitution - may be more than rubber stamping the status quo.
Ken Mair is perhaps still punch drunk from his biffo at the charity boxing match the other day if he thinks ditching Sharples is the way to go. Pem Bird is based in Murupara and would be expected to back his local MP, so it does all come down to whether Tariana thinks now is the right time for Te Ururoa to succeed to the leadership.
Looking at how Annette Sykes from Mana managed in the course of less than six months of organisation to slash his majority from 6,000+ to under 2,000 (with specials still to come in), Te Ururoa and Pem perhaps see that they cannot survive another term with National (especially not in full privatisation mode and moves to the right, further and further away from the traditional interests of Maori voters) so it is best to grab what they can now rather than wait till near the end when they will face defeat.
The gambit of a Te Ururoa coup has hallmarks of desperation and all the potential for instability if Sharples refuses to go along with an undignified political exit. However there will be little sympathy from Maori voters for what happens, and Hone and the Mana movement will appear more coherent and their kaupapa more authentic in comparison with a Maori Party with obvious divisions.