Winston Peters has Tamati Coffey to thank for his kingmaker position

Labour MP Tamati Coffey says he now has a real responsibility to bring about change for his constituents.
ROBERT STEVEN/STUFF

Labour MP Tamati Coffey says he now has a real responsibility to bring about change for his constituents.

This story was originally published on Newsroom.co.nz  and is republished with permission.

Winston Peters should probably send Tamati Coffey a good bottle of single malt whisky when the coalition negotiations are done and dusted.

The former television presenter's win in Waiariki blew National's ally, the Māori Party, out of Parliament and essentially handed Peters the kingmaker role.

Maori Party co-leaders Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox have lost their seats in Parliament.
MAARTEN HOLL/STUFF

Maori Party co-leaders Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox have lost their seats in Parliament.

Coffey's victory will not only influence the make-up and policies of the next Government but will ripple through Māoridom for years to come.

Politics is a hard business, but Sunday's sight of a defeated and devastated Te Ururoa Flavell being unable to answer a question from Newshub's Paddy Gower and walking off crying wasn't an easy watch. 

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Gower, who is as tough as journalists come, was also reduced to tears. Māori party co-leader Marama Fox, with her arm around Flavell, responded by posing a question of her own – why had Coffey been elected to Parliament ahead of the respected Flavell?

"What has he done?" she asked.

The answer, of course, is nothing yet; but clearly, he convinced the electorate he is worth a shot.

"I spent a year going and talking to as many people as I could. I listened and I understood what people are looking for – they want real hope. I spoke to so many grandparents who are looking after their grandchildren because the kid's parents have problems with drugs or alcohol or are in prison; they want someone to look after our moko," said Coffey.

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He said he went away, thought about it and then went back to those people and sold Labour's ideas to them. 

"I just don't think the Māori Party was offering those people tangible solutions. We (Labour) had the best policies."

Coffey's former career as a TV weatherman has seen him labelled by some as a "lightweight" but that would be underestimating the 38-year-old who maximised his television skills with a strong video campaign on social media. Some of Coffey's Facebook videos had more than 50,000 views. He had help from at least one ex-TVNZ branding expert.

The charisma and warmth that saw him rise through the ranks of What Now presenters to well-paid presenting jobs on One News resonated with young voters in Waiariki.

Coffey said his own whakapapa had helped him understand and connect to people his electorate.

"The Coffey family comes from Taranaki. We escaped the Taranaki wars and went to (what is now known as) Lower Hutt. I grew up in the Hutt and understand what it is like to be Māori but incredibly disconnected from the culture. I've also lived the marae lifestyle in the provinces, which is great culturally but you feel completely out of the action, which is happening in the big cities."

Coffey mixed Facebook with footslogging. He and his campaign manager (civil union partner Tim Smith) were holding placards on Rotorua street corners up until the 11th hour.

Smith ended up as his campaign manager by default as two others dropped out.

"Tim really was the last person standing, he didn't have the option of walking away. When a TV3 Reid Research poll put me 20 per cent behind Te Ururoa, Tim was adamant that it was wrong and I was going to win the seat. I felt that too, I knew from being out there that it was much closer than that."

Coffey said he now has a real responsibility to bring about change for his constituents.

"If I can one day walk away from Parliament and know I have changed some outcomes for people, if I've made some real impact and hustled for my people, I will be a happy man."

Asked how, as a political novice, he could achieve that Coffey replied, "When I started in television I had no idea what it was about, success for me then would have been lasting a year (he became one of TVNZ's most popular presenters). When I went on Dancing with Stars I thought success would be not getting voted out in the first week (he won the contest in 2009) and when I go to Wellington I will need to find out what it is all about.

"My dad has always told me you should speak from the heart and you will never be wrong. I will speak from my heart."

On election night it was put to Coffey that he had "killed the Māori Party" by winning the seat it needed to keep it in Parliament. An unrehearsed Coffey answered, "It wasn't me who killed the Māori Party - it was the voters."

Now that he has had more time to reflect – does he still think that?

"I feel nothing but compassion for Te Ururoa, he was carrying the whole weight of the Māori Party on his shoulders and it is really unfair to put him in that position. It was upsetting to see him crying, but we have to realise this is politics."

This story was originally published on Newsroom.co.nz  and is republished with permission. 

 - Newsroom

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