Fascinating internal dramas at the Maori Party conference in the weekend. The ill defined message emanating from the meeting suggested a political machine no longer functioning. The lasting TV image was a pakeha spin Dr explaining to a room full of pissed off looking Maori that they should change their Party's name to broaden their appeal.
The decision to adopt the MANA Party strategy of building voter support from pakeha will be a difficult one for the Maori Party to succeed with for three reasons.
The first issue is the pakeha u-turn. Wanting to reach out to a broader voter base when this is what Pita Sharples had to say last election...
Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples told supporters at the party's campaign launch at the weekend that Mana only purported to stand for Maori. "Rubbish. How can John Minto speak for you? Sue Bradford, how can she speak for kaupapa Maori?," he asked.
...is a sudden re-write of history that would make the Waitangi Tribunal lodge a complaint to itself over, Pita was telling his supporters less than a year ago that pakeha spoke with forked tongue, but now he's wanting their votes?
The second issue for the Maori Party is that they realize they are on shaky ground in the Maori seats with MANA continuing in roads there, so are attempting to reach out to National voting pakeha to save them on the list. The problem is that the average National Party voter is so racist, they make Australians seem enlightened, those voters aren't going to give the Maori Party their vote even if John Ansell was the Vice President of it.
The third reason is the most difficult one for the Maori Party to overcome. Class. MANA has a broad voter appeal because it is effectively arguing social justice from a class perspective. It's 'feed the kids' not 'feed the maori kids' because poverty impacts everyone. Regardless of their culture or race, MANA speaks for those who are being dumped at the edge of the cliff and given a push. That appeals to many well beyond Maoridom who are facing the sharpest edges of poverty, but by being a member of the Government, the Maori Party can't genuinely claim they have anyones interests at heart other than corporate Iwi.
The overall problem for the Maori Party is that they are sell outs now. The joining with John Key for their 'better-to-be-at-the-table-than-not' strategy (even after Key has privatized 49% of that table) has cost them all political credibility.
The Maori Party have an identity crisis brought on by their Stockholm syndrome caused by their relationship with National. They represent their own interest for the baubles of power, an interest which doesn't connect with many Maori and seeing as white people have their own selfishness as a virtue political party in the form of ACT, the Maori Party are spitting into the wind if they think National voters will rush to rescue them from the political wilderness they've managed to lose themselves in.