The Mana Party is here. I know I promised to blog on the Mana Party sooner, but a few things got in the way. However, I’ve found a bit of time to coalesce my thoughts. Given that I felt obligated to blog on the Mana Party this is a rushed job so apologies in advance for the length, any mistakes and the lack of links.
In this post I want to discuss the Mana Party’s policy positions, whether the party will target the party vote or the Maori electorates and whether or not such a strange collection of ideologically dissimilar activists will hold. I will then move on to whether I think the party will meet success (in terms of the party vote and the Maori seats) what it all means for Maori voters. I will not cover the byelection.
In terms of policy, we know very little beyond a few broad positions. The Mana Party will, at this stage, introduce a capital gains tax, institute a financial transactions tax (dubbed the Hone Heke tax) and remove GST. The Mana Party will also nationalise monopolies and duopolies, evaluate Kiwisaver and move to strengthen unions.
The above positions represent the Mana Party’s core policy platform – at this stage at least. In my opinion the above is striking for a lack of clearly identifiable Maori policy. There is no mention of the Treaty, no policy directly targeted at Maori - there is little mention of Maori at all actually. This seems odd given that the Mana Party is, well supposedly at least, a “Maori led” and “Maori focussed” Party. However, with that aside I think it is still fair to describe the Mana Party’s positions as hard left.
To be honest, I am surprised that the Mana Party is focussing on class politics. The movement that underpins the Mana Party is firmly rooted in identity politics, however the party’s policy does not seem to reflect this. Identity politics dominated the last decade, however Hone, no doubt at the behest of Matt McCarten, is pushing policy firmly set along class lines. Unions, progressive taxes and so on all speak to the working class. The above policy is firmly aligned with the working poor and beneficiaries.
Many commentators believe the Mana Party has not departed from ethnic based politics. Although I agree somewhat, if one were to consider Mana Party policy only then it becomes clear that this is not the case. The party appears, at this stage, to be focussing on working class concerns, such the 90 day right to sack law. I have not heard nor seen any policy with regard to tino rangatiratanga. The Mana Party’s policy positions seem to reject Maori concerns in favour of a socialist agenda.
So where does the Mana Party fit on the political spectrum? To the far left in my opinion. There is space on the political spectrum for a far left party. The Maori Party sits on both sides, the Greens appear to be shifting rightwards while the Labour Party occupies the centre or the soft left. I largely agree with Joshua at Maori Law and Politics who points out that the Mana Party more closely “resembles the Alliance… than it does the Maori Party”.
In terms of parliamentary discourse advocating a capital gains tax is a progressive suggestion. In terms of mainstream political discourse advocating a financial transactions tax is almost radical. Removing GST is, again, a progressive suggestion. GST is a regressive tax and others have called for the tax to be decreased or removed. On the other hand nationalising monopolies and duopolies is an innovative suggestion in terms of contemporary parliamentary discourse. However, where I say innovative others may say “extreme” or “radical”.
Personally, I do not quite know what to make of the Mana Party’s policy. I am inclined to say Hone has had something of an epiphany and warmed to working class liberalism. However, I tend to doubt this. It is fair to say Hone has always been an advocate for the poor, but he is a Maori nationalist before he is a working class hero. He believes in Maori customary rights and customary ownership. He believes Maori did not surrender sovereignty in 1840. I therefore find it odd that he has, apparently, ditched all of this in favour of, for lack of a better expression, the aspirations of the radical Pakeha left. This is not to say the policy the Mana Party is advocating will not benefit Maori, I overwhelmingly think it will, I just find it odd that Hone’s priorities have shifted. I would speculate that it signals that Hone is not in complete control of the party and/or the likes of Sue Bradford and Matt McCarten have influenced Hone’s perspective. I tend to think both hold true. Hone surely has the last say, but Matt controls the details in my opinion.
Therefore, policy wise, the Mana Party is about as left as they come. The party mixes the progressive with the radical. There is a clear focus on workers and the poor.
THE PARTY VOTE OR THE MAORI SEATS?
The Mana Party will almost certainly target the party vote. I tend to think Hone and Matt want to stand candidates in the Maori electorates, but they will not pre-empt the Maori Party who have indicated that they will stand a candidate against Harawira in the upcoming byelection or the election proper. Matt McCarten is no fool, and neither is Hone for that matter, both know that there is little chance attracting existing voters. The Labour vote currently represents the party’s core, the Greens maintain a fairly loyal following and most Green voters, in my opinion anyway, represent 21st century liberalism rather than the old school leftism the Mana Party appears to be emulating and there are not many votes to suck from Alliance. The only market where the Mana Party will enjoy success is among tino rangatiratanga voters, also known as Maori Party voters. Ultimately, Hone’s appeal is confined to a small group of far lefties, tino rangatiratanga advocates and the politically apathetic, meaning the poor, marginalised etc…
The Mana Party will have to target the young and the politically apathetic/inactive. With little room to tap existing voters the Mana Party will have to look towards the new and the indifferent.
However, the party could always turn to electorates seats. I cannot think of a general electorate where the Mana Party will have any chance. The Maori electorates are a different story though. The Maori Party appears set to tear up their agreement with Hone and stand a candidate in Te Tai Tokerau. The Mana Party could then, theoretically, stand in every seat and win. That’s a potential six seats.
Of course the Mana Party will probably focus on both the party vote and the Maori seats. Cover both bases. No harm in doing so really. Of course there is a financial barrier and the party’s target audience do not have deep pockets. Realistically, the party will have to focus on either the party or vote or the Maori seats or, alternatively, run a limited campaign in the Maori seats or the party vote. I tend to think the Mana Party will run a limited campaign in the Maori seats. Maybe contest Te Tai Tokerau, Waiariki, Hauraki-Waikato and Ikaroa-Rawhiti only. It is clear that the Mana Party seeks to be more than just a kaupapa Maori party, therefore a wider mandate than just the Maori seats is required for the party to act with any mana.
The advantage Hone Harawira enjoys is that he speaks to a constituency that other parliamentary parties cannot touch. The underclass, non voters and the absolutely marginalised. There is a deep well of dissatisfaction among these groups and Hone, I believe, has the ability to tap that well. The advantage Hone holds is that he knows how to communicate with these groups, to some extent he is one of them as well. He is clever but not intellectual, aggressive but not violent, ordinary but not average, kind but not soft. He maintains many virtues that will resonate with the poor, but more importantly he knows how to articulate their concerns.
It is clear that the Mana Party is seeking a wider base than just Maori. The party’s policy is overwhelmingly targeted at the working poor, however the makeup of the party does not reflect the target audience.
The Mana Party consists, by my reckoning at least, of two sorts of activists. Tino rangatiratanga activists and far left advocates. The tino rangatiratanga activists outnumber the far left advocates. Both sets of activists will be fighting for primacy. The tino rangatiratanga cluster will seek to elevate Maori concerns above left concerns and vice versa. At the moment the left branch appears to be conceding i.e. taking a backseat in public. However, the policy positions of the Mana Party tell a different story. Policy seems to reflect left concerns. On the other hand the public faces of the party are advocating Maori concerns.
There appears to be a divide between the substantive aspect of the party and the propaganda aspect of the party. The substantive aspect, read policy, appears to be directed from the left wing section of the party. While on the other hand the propaganda aspect of the party appears to be directed by the tino rangatiratanga section. For example the imagery associated with the party is Maori. The Mana logo is the typical red and black, two colours with prominent meaning for Maori and the font is, in terms of character, consistent with Maori design. The party website also incorporates red and black while Maori is the default language.
There are a number of theoretical advantages to having a combination of lefties and Maori nationalists. Firstly, the lefties and the Maori nationalist group will, in theory, act as a two way moderating force. Having said that I must say this is unlikely in my opinion. It is hard enough putting two Maori in a room and asking them to agree on something let alone a Maori and a Pakeha with competeing priorities. Secondly, the Mana Party embodies, sort of, diversity of opinion and this will hopefully lead to a more robust policy discussion and a broader policy agenda. Thirdly, Matt McCarten, Sue Bradford and so on are the sort of people who will challenge Hone. I have always imagined Hone as the sort of person who does whatever the last person told him to. However, McCarten and co will act as a competent sounding board and will challenge Hone on some of his more extreme and unpalatable positions.
Common sense would dictate that such an uncompromising combination of interests is doomed to fail. Prima facie, I agree. But then again it just seems like an easy call to make and one that does not take into account the complexity of human interaction and determination of all involved to make this movement successful.
Ultimately, the danger comes when the inevitable ideological clash happens. It then becomes a question of whether or not those involved have the strength of character to compromise. I would say yes. I now think Hone appreciates that there is often a gap between rhetoric/desire and the political reality. If he compromises the Maori nationalists will follow. Matt McCarten is essentially a political pragmatist and if he compromises I believe the left group will follow. These two men are the pinnacle of the party – the two ideological leaders.
WILL IT BE SUCCESSFUL?
Certainly – in the short term. Not so clear in the long term. Maori Party support is declining at a rate of knots. That decline will not flow towards Labour until they repent for the foreshore and seabed betrayal nor will it flow towards the Greens who continue to fail in articulating their message to Maori. The Mana Party is the default option and, arguably, the only other option (discounting right wing parties for obvious reasons).
If the Maori Party decides to stand against Hone either at the byelection or the election proper then the Maori seats become fair game for Hone. In my opinion the Mana Party will pick up Waiariki (assuming Annette Sykes stands) and retain Te Tai Tokerau.
The ultimate measure of success though will be how many inactive voters Mana can secure. If the Mana Party can mobilise the politically apathetic then the party would have succeeded in creating a permanent electoral force and securing their place as a serious political player. This is easier said than done of course. Matt McCarten’s Mana campaign illustrated that it is nearly impossible to mobilise inactive voters. However, we must keep in mind the fact that Mana was a byelection, the economic and social circumstances were less dire and Matt has probably learnt a number of valuable lessons that can be applied across the country. Ultimately, as I said, if anyone can speak to and mobilise the marginalised it is Hone Harawira. The man has a genuine rapport with the pohara and he knows exactly what they will respond to. The challenge then is not what messages do we run, but how do get the messages into their living rooms, their homes etc. The question will be how do we penetrate their lives?
The Mana Party is not representing a narrow set of interests either. Where the Maori Party is exclusively concerned with Maori issues and Maori policy, the Mana Party is concerned with a wider set of interests, for example working class concerns. This in turn means the Mana Party can draw upon a wider base. How much success the party will have in terms of securing a wider base is not yet known. For me it depends on whether or not Pakeha can overcome the barrier that a perceived ‘Maori party’ represents. There is for many Pakeha a psychological barrier to voting for a Maori party and there is also a more practical barrier – Hone Harawira. It will be hard for Pakeha, even the far left ones, to vote for a man who has displayed a fair amount of hostility towards their people.
We must consider another question when guessing at the possible success the Mana Party will enjoy. Will the such a group of disparate and competing interests hold? Will the lefties and the tino rangatiratanga group enjoy a stable relationship or will the party become factionalised? If internal disputes emerge then history shows the party is almost guaranteed to fail. My money is on the party holding - until they get within range of government. That is when the ideological disputes, the practical disputes and so on will come to the fore.
We cannot lose sight of the media either. The slurs have already begun. The media is attempting to portray the byelection as a ploy on Harawiras part to make a bit more cash and the imagery the media associates with Hone is always negative and sometimes scary. However, this matters for nothing. Hone’s voters don’t give a shit. Most probably don’t even watch the news let alone care what Jessica Mutch has to say about Hone Harawira.
Ultimately, the barometer will be how many inactive voters does the Mana Party secure. This will determine how successful the party is.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR MAORI?
Where do I start?
Firstly, Maori now have more choice. Maori have a number of different choices all of which can be clearly distinguished. There is a kaupapa Maori party (the Maori Party), a centrists and tested party (the Labour Party) and an experimental and working class party (the Mana Party). The Greens and New Zealand First also factor in a less prominent position.
The Mana Party also pits Maori against Maori. The debate will without doubt divide many iwi, hapu and even whanau. Maori, as a collective, hate to see infighting. But then again tribal politics is often plagued with infighting, so I guess for some it is nothing new.
Hopefully, the Mana Party will lead to debate about where Maori sit in the political landscape. Maori political discourse is terribly thin and I welcome anything that stimulates discussion. Maori need to ask what is the nature of Maori political participation? Can we be placed adequately on the political spectrum? How do Maori want to engage in the political process, for example are we content with been passive bystanders or do we want to inject ourselves into the political class. What sort of policy platform best advances Maori aspirations and so on.
This brings me to an interesting point. It is clear that the Maori Party wishes to inject our own into the political class and the capitalist class. The Maori Party believes this is the best way forward – working within the system essentially. The Maori Party prescription is to take on the ruling class on their terms. While on the other hand the Mana Party remedy is to deconstruct the neoliberal framework that has given rise to the political elites and the capitalist class. The Mana Party and the Maori Party both believe in integrating our indigenous systems and values into a western framework. The difference is the two parties believe in a different western framework. The Maori Party is comfortable with neoliberalism while the Mana Party would institute a move towards a more socialist regime. Maori must choose very carefully.
Personally, I applaud the Maori Party on having a model to get Maori ahead. However, I do not like that model because often it comes at the expense of others. For example asset sales. Asset sales will undoubtedly benefit iwi, however that will come at the expense of other New Zealanders. Mainly the have nots. Our aspirations should not come at the expense of others – no matter how much we deserve to get ahead.
There is a worrying divide forming among Maori. It is a divide between the haves and the have nots. This divide is embodied by the Maori Party and the Mana Party. It is a divide between iwi that have their settlements, their land trusts and their middle class and between iwi and urban Maori that do not. It is easier for those who do have to say Maori need to get out of, and I hate these terms, grievance mode and into development mode. I will use the example of my iwi, Ngati Awa, and urban Maori. We, as in Ngati Awa, have a growing middle class, a cultural and spiritual base that we retain, we have a number of successful hapu trusts and we have a Crown apology and a financial settlement. We can move because we have our closure, sort of, and we have capital to utilise to get ahead. Our connections to the whenua remain unbroken and our Ngati Awa tikanga and kawa remains. The same cannot be said about urban Maori. They have no settlement to invest in their futures, they have no connection to their traditional lands, their reo and tikanga is almost forgotten, their incomes are falling and the government is not correcting the wrong. How can these Maori be expected to get into development mode when they have nothing and the wounds of the past are still a substantial cause of anger and marginalisation. Urban Maori have no means of getting ahead as a people. The system and society still operates against them. They have no access to capital and their culture is lost. Now where I am going with this is that the Maori Party is siding with the haves while the Mana Party is siding with the have nots.
This has probably always existed, however it is becoming more pronounced. Inequality between Maori is increasing and this cannot be tolerated. The Maori Party is increasing inequality, whereas the Mana Party will seek to rectify inequality among Maori – or at least that is how I see it.
I have not mentioned this yet and this section seems like a logical place. The Mana Party, contrary to what some commentators believe, is not trying to be a pan-Maori party. The Maori Party’s attempt at been such a party has failed in my opinion. That is why the Maori Party is currently representing a narrow set of interests i.e. the Maori capitalist class while the Mana Party is seeking to represent poor New Zealanders. Pan-Maori parties aren’t working at the moment.
I am not so quick to write off the Mana Party. The party will have little trouble attracting members and grassroots activists and supporters. Ultimately, the Mana Party will probably succeed because the Maori Party has failed. The Maori Party has, and I repeat this unequivocally, failed as a kaupapa Maori party. The Maori Party is captured by a corporate agenda; the Maori Party serves the interests of the few. The Maori Party has lost sight of its people. The Maori Party is now the party of the likes of Wira Gardiner and Tuku Morgan – a party of the right. A party of the privileged and the disconnected. All of the rhetoric, all of the hope, all of the expectation and obligation has come to nothing. Even worse, the Maori Party has failed its own definition of success. Maori are worse off and continue to fall. This why Mana will succeed. Because Maori want and Maori need a genuine representative. People can throw around comments like “Hone is out of control’ and “Hone is a racist”. I think sentiment along these lines completely misrepresents and misreads Hone as he is today. Hone Harawira has grown up and he has surrounded himself with some of the sharpest political minds in New Zealand. He isn’t the arrogant idiot who flunked a meeting for some sightseeing in Paris anymore. He isn’t the idiot who fired off a disgusting email to an infamous kupapa anymore. Hone Harawira appreciates the weight of expectation he now carries and, ultimately, he understands what the daily slog is like for many Maori. This is what drives Hone. Hone knows he cannot afford to shit the bed and stuff it up for Maori. He has a job and he is going to get on with it. The media, the right, the racists and the Maori Party will not get in the way.