Labour's clean sweep of Māori seats sealed Māori Party's fate - what went wrong and will it return?

Dr Lance O'Sullivan has been actively involved in the Māori Party and is tipped to lead its revival after it was knocked ...
SIMON MAUDE/STUFF

Dr Lance O'Sullivan has been actively involved in the Māori Party and is tipped to lead its revival after it was knocked out of Parliament.

Many have wept for the Māori Party after its shock exit from Parliament on Saturday night.

The irony has not been lost on the party's co-leader, Marama Fox, that if those who couldn't imagine politics without the party had bothered to vote for its MPs, then it wouldn't be in this position.

But does the party have a way of coming back in the form of New Zealander of the Year Lance O'Sullivan?

Māori Party co-leaders Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox are out of Parliament after the party failed to win a seat or ...
MAARTEN HOLL/STUFF

Māori Party co-leaders Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox are out of Parliament after the party failed to win a seat or meet the five per cent threshold for returning.

Could he be just what the doctor ordered to resuscitate it?

READ MORE:
* Maori King has nailed his colours to the mast
* The Green Party dilemma
* Andrew Little: Maori King 'abusing his office' by endorsing Papa
Maori King endorses Rahui Papa for Hauraki-Waikato
Maori Party doesn't back Helen Clark for UN top job

Flavell openly wept on Saturday night and in interviews on Sunday morning as he came to terms with losing, to Labour's Tamati Coffey, the Waiariki seat he'd held for the past 12 years.

The Maori Party president, Tuku Morgan, greets former prime minister John Key. Morgan is a close adviser to Maori King ...
PETER DRURY/STUFF

The Maori Party president, Tuku Morgan, greets former prime minister John Key. Morgan is a close adviser to Maori King Tūheitia.

The loss was bigger than him – the seat was the lifeline for the party's return to Parliament.

Like NZ First in 2008, the Māori Party faces political oblivion unless it can bolster its membership and remind voters why it matters.

While many in the party are still going through the grief and anger stages, there's also a new generation who by Monday were starting to feel optimistic about its rebirth.

King Tūheitia with Prince Charles in 2015. Tūheitia aligned Kingitanga with the Māori Party and sidelined his cousin and ...
HAGEN HOPKINS/REUTERS

King Tūheitia with Prince Charles in 2015. Tūheitia aligned Kingitanga with the Māori Party and sidelined his cousin and Labour MP, Nanaia Mahuta, in the process.

WHAT WENT SO WRONG?

Ad Feedback

Flavell has questioned whether the poor party vote was because the time is up for Māori believing in a "strong independent voice" in Parliament.

He personally has done his dash – "the people have spoken", he said on Sunday.

Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta not only won back the Hauraki-Waikato seat, she increased her majority, despite the Māori King ...
STUFF

Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta not only won back the Hauraki-Waikato seat, she increased her majority, despite the Māori King endorsing her competition.

There's a strong sense among Māori MPs that if your people don't vote you in, then you have no place there.

Flavell has listened to what the people of Waiariki have said and that meant he needed no time to announce his retirement from all politics. He won't be back, it's for others to rebuild the party now.

Coffey reflects a new generation and, combined with a new Labour leader, Jacinda Ardern, Māori voters in Waiariki found something new to put their faith in.

Dr Lance O'Sullivan welcomed Prime Minister Bill English in Kaitaia during the election campaign.
JO MOIR

Dr Lance O'Sullivan welcomed Prime Minister Bill English in Kaitaia during the election campaign.

Coffey, a former television presenter, convincingly won the seat with 53.6 per cent of the vote.

But Waiariki wasn't the only seat the Māori Party had hung its hopes on.

Māori Party candidate and rugby league star Howie Tamati had polled ahead of Labour's Adrian Rurawhe in Te Tai Hauāuru but on the night Rurawhe won 47 per cent of the vote to Tamati's 40.4 per cent.

And then there was Hauraki-Waikato, the seat that is home to Kingitanga (the Māori movement).

Not only did incumbent Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta win the seat with 72.3 per cent of the vote, she also increased her majority despite her opposition being respected tribal leader and Māori Party candidate Rahui Papa.

Māori King Tūheitia personally endorsed Papa and eventually the entire party, but with only 27.7 per cent of the vote, Papa didn't even have a look-in on the night.

DOES THE MĀORI KING HAVE ANY INFLUENCE?

Mahuta has no doubt Tūheitia will reflect on his decision to involve Kingitanga in politics and realise the movement is "bigger than that".

She says he's entitled to back whichever candidate he likes, but she says the people spoke and they voted for her.

Tūheitia's closest adviser up until a couple of weeks out from the election was Māori Party president Tuku Morgan.

For many, his relationship with both the King and the Māori Party meant his position had become clouded.

Mahuta says people in Hauraki-Waikato were "confused" by the King's messaging and while she already had a strong support base, her increased majority on the night came from those who disagreed with what Tūheitia had done.

Last year Tūheitia made the rare move of using his speech at his coronation anniversary to rule out ever voting for Labour again, which he blamed on Labour for saying it would never work with the Māori Party.

Andrew Little was Labour leader at the time and had no idea what was coming his way until he was rushed off Tūrangawaewae marae. The relationship with Kingitanga soured from that point on.

At the King's coronation anniversary this year Ardern had taken over as leader but Māori MPs in her caucus warned her against attending out of fear she would be tainted by the same reception.

Mahuta hasn't heard from Tūheitia, her cousin, since winning the seat back but she says there's no animosity between them.

She was raised in Kingitanga and was mentored by Tūheitia's mother, Dame Te Atairangikaahu.

"I suspect I'm probably a bit too opinionated but I make no apologies for that. I was brought up in the Kingitanga movement with strong leaders and mentoring under Tūheitia's mother.

"That was a different kind of leadership to what it is now," she says.

Mahuta wants Tūheitia's advisers to step down so wiser counsel can fill the gap.

She says his current advisers are "delusional, confused and wrong" and won't take any of the responsibility for what has happened to the Māori Party.

"They'll blame it on individuals and the candidates, they won't take responsibility themselves."

Mahuta says she's not going to give the Māori Party its 2020 campaign strategy but it wasn't "coherent in their messaging to Māori".

The "writing was on the wall in 2014 when Labour won back a number of the seats" and Māori were becoming "increasingly uncomfortable" with the relationship the Māori Party had with National.

Coffey's win is symbolic of a generational change in Māoridom and represents a "new and fresh perspective" in the same way Ardern does.

While it's a good problem to have so many Māori in the Labour caucus – there's 13 now that Labour has 45 MPs – Mahuta says apportioning roles and responsibilities to Māori MPs will be a challenge for Ardern.

Labour has been accused in the past of overlooking its Māori MPs and the promotion of Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis to deputy was just the beginning in what Māori expect to see in terms of increased responsibility within the party.

Ardern's portfolio allocations will be scrutinised.

Some close to Tūheitia believe his meddling in politics was the "kiss of death" for the Māori Party and questions hang over Morgan and how Labour's biggest win against the Māori Party happened in the seat home to Kingitanga.

WILL THE MĀORI PARTY RISE FROM THE ASHES?

Sources within the party have no doubt  it can come back from its shock exit at the election, but much will need to change.

O'Sullivan is a front runner to take over the leadership of the party. Scrapping the co-leaders and putting up one strong voice to represent the party is something likely to be considered.

The Kaitaia doctor hasn't made any decisions about his political plans yet, but there's plenty of encouragement for him to take on the job.

Widening the party's appeal beyond the Māori seats is going to be crucial to its revival and O'Sullivan is someone who has strong cross-over with both Māori and non-Māori.

While he could look to stand in Waiariki in 2020 against Coffey (O'Sullivan's wife's family is from the area), he could just as easily take a run in the Northland seat.

Iwi support for the Māori Party has dropped away and rebuilding the party's base will require a lot of groundwork to get them back on board.

As it stands, if National and NZ First go into coalition, the Iwi Chairs Forum, which many Māori see as elitist and not at all representative of their views, would be the only Māori voice in that government arrangement.

'OUR FUTURE IS STILL COMING'

Fox is optimistic about the future of the party. While it may not be back in 2020 in its current form, and she may not be part of the leadership team, she says it will return.

"The average age of Maori is 24 – our future is still coming."

Without a doubt, says Fox, the party's ties to National played a big part in its demise, but she's frustrated the increasingly bad statistics for Māori were always blamed on her and Flavell.

"The biggest thing that hurt us was sitting next to the National Government when the number of homeless and those in poverty was increasing."

She says it's impossible to make "legacy change" unless you're one of the bigger parties in Parliament and that's why the Māori Party needs to rebuild and change its strategy.

Someone like O'Sullivan would be a game-changer for the party leadership but not because he has a high profile, Fox says.

"Getting someone like Lance is future thinking, but he's great because he'd be a great minister of health, not because of his family name or because everyone knows him.

"He comes from a great area of social deprivation and because of that he's had to be innovative," she says.

If those Labour MPs who swept the Māori seats end up on the backbenches of opposition, Fox says it will be a "long winter" for Māori without a strong voice advocating for "significant change".

Maybe then, she says, Māori will realise the full impact of what has been done.

 - Stuff

Comments

Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback