By Mike Treen
(Reprinted from The Daily Blog)
Mana’s strong showing in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election is a major victory for all working people.
Coming a strong second and pushing the Maori Party into third place has provoked a crisis in the Maori Party that could prove terminal.
This has happened because in the words of Mana leader Hone Harawira “Mana is what the Maori Party was supposed to be – the independent voice for Maori, the fighter for te pani me te rawakore (the poor and the dispossessed.”
Increasingly the contest in the Maori seats will be between Labour and the Mana Movement. I want to explain why I think that this is of benefit to the broader labour movement (including, paradoxically, the Labour Party).
Working people want to defeat the National Government. It has presided over growing unemployment and inequality and its policies are designed to ensure that process continues unabated.
Unfortunately it remains relatively high in the polls. The next election is not certain. Luckily its current coalition partners (Maori, Act and United Future) are in terminal decline. Preventing their entry into parliament will make the chance of defeating National that much greater.
Labour is still languishing in the polls. But the combined vote of Labour and the Greens makes the “opposition” a credible alternative. When they have combined to offer a policy that challenges the status-quo even modestly seriously (like energy prising or housing) – the policies prove very popular.
The wild card is New Zealand First. Winston Peters tries to come across as and anti-establishment candidate who defends the welfare state and opposes asset sales. But a significant part of his appeal is the only half-concealed racism directed against immigrants. He went with National after the 1996 election when there was a hung parliament with the excuse that a coalition of Labour, NZ First and the Greens would be too unwieldy. He could well make the same claim if he was in the same position at the next election. Alternatively he could tell Labour he would form a government with them only if it excluded the Greens.
It is in the interests of both Labour and the Greens to ensure that does not happen.
Mana holds Te Tai Tokerau and its deputy leader Annette Sykes came a close second in in the seat of Te Ururoa Flavell – the new leader to be of the Maori Party. If he fails to win his seat it would spell the end of the Maori Party. If he keeps his seat he could also possibly bring in a few other MP’s if the Maori Party was to get 2-3% of the vote. They are also potential allies for National.
Mana however will never go to National. If they were to hold Te Tai Tokerau and take Flavell’s seat they would be adding at least two seats to the broader left. The added bonus is that these would be seats that wouldn’t be deducted from Labour or the Green’s total which would be determined by their party vote. It may even be possible that Mana could bring in one or two extras from a list vote of 2-3% – which is a possibility given a continuing Maori Party decline.
A smart campaign option would be for the Green’s and Labour to essentially run a list vote campaign in these two seats even if they have candidates. This would help ensure a bigger number of seats going to the anti-National coalition and neutralise the possibility of Winston Peters being the king maker.
Once the job of ejecting this government has been accomplished Mana and Labour can return to the job of competing for who is the best representative of the poor and oppressed in this country.
Long-term under a proportional system all major parties need allies. One of the great strategic errors of Helen Clark’s government was helping Jim Anderton destroy the Alliance Party on the Labour Party’s left. Middle class voters could go to the Green’s but that party is unlikely to ever appeal to disillusioned working class voters. They are more likely to go to New Zealand First (which will never be a reliable ally of the left) or even National. Working people need a voice that is truly one of the poor and oppressed and today that is Mana.
(Unite National Director Mike Treen has a blog hosted on the TheDailyBlog website. The site is sponsored by several unions and hosts some of New Zealand’s leading progressive commentators. Mike’s blog will be covering union news and general political comment but the views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of Unite Union.)