Labour’s Maori challenges

Labour have got themselves into a tricky situation with their Maori agenda. They have promoted the fact that they stand to end up with a quarter of their MPs as Maori – but are struggling to deal with Maori issues credibly.

Vernon Small: Labour and Little are on the horns of a dilemma over Maori issues

Standing in the “Lange room”, in front of the made-for-television screens screaming “Labour”, he launched into his opening remarks ahead of this weekend’s election year Congress.

First up was the shape of the Labour caucus and a likely strong Maori presence; “we will have at least 12 Maori MPs”.

With six MPs in eminently winnable seats opting off the list, the Maori caucus may have been hoping tactically to get some list MPs higher up.

If that was the plan, it mis-fired.  In striking its list and meeting any ethnic, gender or regional “quotas” the party takes into account the likely seats it will win. On that basis Maori will be well represented, as Little noted.

But that hadn’t stopped a blast of criticism and disappointment from Jackson and others, with some highlighting the “bad look” of having no Maori candidates in the top 15 of its shop front to the voters.

Those attacks clearly frustrated the hell out of Labour’s top table, with chief of staff Neale Jones turning to social media to publish a list with Maori seat MPs added in caucus order. It showed Kelvin Davis at between six and seven with Nanaia Mahuta and Meka Whaitiri all in the top 15.

Hence Little’s opening shots. But he went further in his pitch to Labour’s most reliable voting bloc.

But while he may have offered an olive branch to Maori he was also wrestling with the reality of that very Maori voice in his own caucus – not helped by a dreadful Morning Report interview on charter schools where he just sounded evasive.

Little has really struggled with dealing with the party’s strong opposition to partnership schools versus strong Maori of them.

It’s a familiar dilemma for Labour with echoes that go back to the foreshore and seabed debate and the short lived “Closing the Gaps” programme in Helen Clark’s first term.

How do you balance specific Maori concerns – including Maori-specific solutions – while looking over your shoulder at the reaction of your other core constituents … and a pursuing Winston Peters?

Given Little’s sweeping and principled stance about the ubiquitous role of Maori, how does he achieve his high-flying vision without – as Maori co-leader Marama Fox puts it – muzzling his own MPs?

You have to ask whether he is being too timid or is in thrall to nightmares from the Clark years and the advantage National took of divisive issues.

It comes amid some worrying sign from the party’s internal polling, which puts Peters increasingly in the driver’s seat to determine the direction of the next Government. Labour is weakening below 30 per cent and NZ First is on the rise – even as National is more vulnerable as its vote erodes into the low 40s.

Given the importance of a show of unity, and the need to focus on Little’s keynote speech on Sunday the pressure will be on to keep dissent on the down-low.

But that doesn’t make it go away.

It won’t make the media ignore it either. I think Little will be interviewed on both The Nation and Q&A in the weekend. He will need to have worked out a more credible and convincing way to explain how he is going to deal the horns of his Maori dilemma than he has done so far this week.



  1. Corky

     /  May 11, 2017

    Hey, Andy..why did you rope in Willie? Personally he would be the last person I’d want to deal with. You need to remember you are a broad church and Maori are now used to having every itch scratched. No prizes for guessing the outcome should you not start kow-towing to Maori very soon.

    • @ Corky – ” …should you not start kow-towing to Maori very soon” … like National do …

      In a late-night attempt to try and think like one I ask: Where does this leave Righties come election time?

      If you’re a Rightie – unless you live in Epsom or an absolutely safe National electorate – surely a candidate vote for anyone other than a National candidate is a wasted vote? Or I guess you can send a ‘clear message’ to your National MP by reducing his/her majority at the next election … Doh!

      And surely a party vote FOR National – a Bill each way – negates both your candidate vote and your philosophical ‘protest’ against them “kow-towing to Maori”?

      You’re kind of trapped really aren’t you? Trapped into voting for National … Whom many of you believe are selling New Zeal Land to immigrants AND simultaneously giving it away to Maori (as opposed to giving it back) …

      Neither ACT nor The Conservatives can help you on election night, because neither has a chance of becoming a significant enough coalition partner to genuinely influence policy.

      Maybe Winston can help you out …?
      Or … [No! Don’t say his name … Gareth … arghhhh!]

      But really the only powerful potential coalition partner is once again …. The Maori Party!!!

      I don’t envy Righties come 23/9 … not if National’s “Maori agenda” is an important issue for you … and rest assured … (‘JAWS’ theme music) … IT SHOULD BE …

      I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s one or two “lets kick Labour around some more” topics … What fun!!! It’s like a smoke-screen of non-critique = publicity for the government. Promote National by denigrating Labour …

      So, for Righties, what’s ‘good’ about National in all this …?

      You might say, “At least they’re consistent”! But no. They have abolishing the Maori seats in their manifesto (apparently) … a sop to ACT and the Conservees … while they wheel-and-deal with the Maori Party … and the “race-based, separatist, apartheid, tribal elite …

      What does your precious National party end up looking like?

      Well … It looks like they’ll deal with any ‘elite’ who’s got BIG MONEY … Peter Thiel comes to mind … even if they have to give them the BIG MONEY themselves!

      But anyhow … always remember … keep the target in shight … What’s important is what Labour’s doing wrong …

      • “Shight”, meaning ‘Shit Sights’ = new word # 97 coined on here … Racing for the ton!