In 2009, the year after it was ousted from the New Zealand Parliament in the General Election, New Zealand First faithful gathered to do two things:
- Assess the damage caused by being ousted from Parliament
- Decide how to move forward based on the assessment of the damage
No one said it would be easy, and it was not. But New Zealand First made it happen and in 2011 picked up 8 seats. Winston Peters and Deputy Leader Barbara Stewart led six newcomers into the House of Representatives much to the chagrin of National. Nearly a year after the 2017 General Election, the Maori Party must be wondering the same thing: can it pull itself back together and if so, where to from here?
The Maori Party has many challenges lying before it. They range from the basic ones around how does a party ousted from Parliament rebuild with severely limiting resources, through to how to attract new members and whether or not the Party’s constitution is in need of an overhaul.
But first things first. Who is going to lead the party? Right now both of the co-leadership positions (Maori Party constitution requires a female and male co-leader)are vacant. Will Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox want them back? Good question. If not then who will take over? There are no obvious candidates to do so at the moment as these were in many respects the two most charismatic, capable and certainly the best known of all the Maori Party leaders over the years.
The Maori Party will have significant challenges to address in terms of who does it represent. One might say that the answer is in the name, and whilst there is truth in that, when one looks at the diverse range of settings Maori find themselves in, the answer is certainly not as simple as one might want to think.
- Will northern Maori, with issues pertaining to the Treaty of Waitangi and adherence to it by the Crown, Maori and non-Maori alike put their foot down and demand concessions from the leaders
- Will Ngapuhi come to the table with realistic expectations about what to get out of a settlement as the last major Iwi to commence negotiations
- Would it want a reconciliation with former member and Mana Party leader Hone Harawira, son of the notorious Titewhai Harawira?
In many respects I was not surprised that the Maori Party collapsed at the last election. Past efforts at having a Maori Party in Parliament have collapsed as well. It also did not help that a resurgent Labour feeling the Jacinda-mania warmth picked out all seven seats, having finally convinced Maori that, yes, it has learnt the lessons of the Helen Clark Government. But the major reason that the Maori Party failed at the 2017 election was that internal warring. a general failure to address issues more pressing than the Treaty of Waitangi, such as crime, joblessness, suicide and addiction rates – all the statistics no one wants to be represented in, in other words – and nine years with National, were just too much for many to stomach.
With 2011 still two year away there is still time to rebuild. But it would be wise to start the planning now.