Options for Hone Harawira
Hone Harawira's public criticism of the way the party - the leaders - have compromised with National was calculated to get a reaction. When I read his Sunday Star Times column I thought he meant to address the question of coalition compromises directly and fire the party up for the election - positioning the party as far to the left as he can. As a way to signal a tougher deal must be struck if the party is to go with National again it's not a bad gambit to have one angry cop to play off when the time comes. But this isn't part of any statagem, this is Hone being Hone, playing a cowboy rather than a cop and he went too far, by any standard, and the whip was forced to act. But does it mean Hone wants out? I'm not sure if he knows what he wants.
I'm currently in Te Ururoa's electorate and the feeling here is that although there is some sympathy for the content of Hone's righteous outburst, there is a strong dislike for his style. They are getting bored with his antics. Te Ururoa himself is on a collision course, he wants him out. He is the most obvious candidate for a ministerial position and as Mr Bradbury has noted in the post below it is in National's best interests to get rid of Harawira - and promote Te Ururoa. There must be caucus dynamics unknown beyond the group of five, but Hone and Te Ururoa working together successfully after this complaint is dealt with seems almost impossible - no matter what the official outcome.
Now it has escalated to this crisis what are the options?
The chances of Hone just taking another slap on the wrist with a disciplinary telling off and it all going away is so very unlikely now it has got to this stage. The chances of taking over leadership of the party is nil. The mo-fo comments were just too much for the bulk of the elderly party members. Will he or won't he leave the Maori Party? Will he become an independent? Will he run as an independent?
Hone isn't just in this for Hone he is in this for his electorate - the Maori of the North. What is the best way to get that? To get into government - to become a minister and deliver. Are we supposed to believe he has no such ambition and he is just happy being the member for Te Tai Tokerau? If he stays with the party he will never be on the inside and because he's on the outside he'll never be a minister and never be in a position to deliver his electorate anything other than leaflets. The only way he can progress to leadership or have ministerial responsibility and policy initiative is to leave the party. That's how it looks at the moment.
Hone can only be a player if he breaks with the party. This gives him an incentive to become an independent, and then - like Peter Dunne - have a shot at getting his pet projects done as a minister if the electoral chips fall the right way. For Hone, the left way. However, as a party leader of a political movement that could pull in other MPs and have real influence in a coalition then there is even more incentive to break with the party.
The problem is then one of accommodation. If the Maori Party stood a candidate against Hone then Labour could come in through the middle and take the seat back. That would not be in the best interests of Maori given Labour's past misdeeds. If they don't stand a candidate they look weak. If Hone starts a party and contests the other Maori electorates then Labour could squeeze back into Te Tai Tonga and even Tamaki Makaurau on the split vote. As far as the maths goes a new left party with Hone as the anchor electorate is a good deal... for the Pakeha lefties who will get in on his coattails. To be a good deal for Maori - which is what Hone is all about - is another question. Him being leader, or co-leader, of a parliamentary party that must share internal power and tikanga with Pakeha would be a difficult mix, but it is quite possible. Hone's leadership and suitability for ministerial collective responsibility is a proposition that would appall a majority to contemplate no doubt but any electoral showing that takes MPs with him means he can be expected to start making deals and sitting at the top table and all the discipline that involves. If the numbers are tight Phil will have to pick up the phone and start the korero with Hone.
That's all if he wants it. And at the moment it looks like the party doesn't want him, so he'll be forced into asking the same questions they are and we are.
If Hone goes independent and then forms a new left party I would suggest they reach an accommodation in the Maori Electorates. To avoid friction at a party level from the bad blood that will come when half the Tai Tokerau electorate members defect to Hone's outfit and to act in the interests of having an authentic Maori voice in the House, the Maori Party will not stand a candidate against him - and his party won't stand candidates in the other six seats. That may have to be the deal for this election, next election the truce is over. The Tai Tokerau Maori Party members who leave for Hone's vehicle will come back when he is gone - meanwhile they will have to regather their forces to campaign for the party vote. Hone on the other hand will be driving a very simple message in the Maori electorates - your party vote is wasted on the Maori Party, party vote for Hone's new left party and you won't lose a single Maori MP, and you will gain a couple of pro-Maori left MPs.