Bryce Edwards: The emotional Maori Party demise

Bryce Edwards: The emotional Maori Party demise

The shock departure of the Maori Party was the only real upset of the election. Some have likened it to a “Maori Brexit”, with voters rebelling against the party in a way that some commentators and politicians are struggling to explain or comprehend. This column looks at the outpouring of emotion – sorrow, angst, recrimination and regret – that has followed Saturday night’s result. And tomorrow I’ll look at why the party failed.

The media laments the loss of the Maori Party

Perhaps surprisingly, one of the most emotional items in response to the loss is Patrick Gower’s one-minute interview with the two co-leaders, which Gower has posted on Facebook, with the message: “I have so much respect for what the Maori Party stands for” – see: Haere ra Te Ururoa Flavell MP and Marama Fox – I am really going to miss you.

Also on Facebook, TVNZ broadcaster Miriama Kamo, paid tribute to the party, saying the tragedy was bigger than just two politicians being thrown out of office: “The loss of the Maori Party to parliament was hard to witness because it wasn’t just about the potential death of a party or two passionate MPs losing their jobs. It was about what the party represented. The Maori Party was born of a movement, an epic protest, that moved from the streets and into the halls of power. The leadership of Dame Tariana and Ta Pita, and then Te Ururoa and Marama, was the impressive shopfront for Māori aspiration. Those leaders knew that the fight wasn’t for themselves, but for Maori. They carried the legacy of the movement, that created the political waka, on their shoulders.”

Even Mike Hosking is stepping up to defend the Maori Party, and admonish Maori voters for giving up on the party, suggesting voters don’t deserve them. He says “You get the representation you deserve” – see: The case to scrap the Maori seats.

Hosking questions the wisdom of Maori voters shifting their support to the Labour Party: “what is it they want, in voting for a party that let’s be honest may not even be in government? And that’s the sadness of the Maori Party demise. They got to government on the very simple premise that you get more done in government than you do out of it. How can you argue with that logic? And why would you get punished for it?”

On The Spinoff website, editor Duncan Greive gave an impassioned defence of the Maori Party’s achievements: “During their time supporting first John Key and then Bill English’s governments they appeared to have an influence on policy far out of proportion to their relative size. Their list of achievements, of putting kaupapa Maori solutions like Whanau Ora into or alongside core legislation, is long. It’s likely no coincidence that government relations with iwi seem as cordial as they have in years, perhaps as good as they’ve ever been” – see: The sad fate of the Maori party shows the Greens what awaits pragmatists.

For a list of the party’s achievements, see Tom O’Connor’s Maori Party’s loss cuts deep. He says: “Between them they brought a greater official and public recognition of the New Zealand Land Wars, brought about a pardon for the prophet Rua Kenana and signed New Zealand up to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. They also drove significant progress with the Whanau Ora programme, speeded up Treaty of Waitangi settlements and progressed the repeal of the foreshore and seabed legislation. While these matters may not be important to the general electorate they are very significant to Maori.”

For many in the media, the rejection of the party by Maori has therefore been hard to comprehend. O’Connor continues: “No matter what the Maori Party gained in government it was never going to be enough for some voters who clearly had unreasonable expectations of what two members could achieve. That they achieved anything at all as part of a right-wing government is remarkable. That they achieved so much and were thrown out by a majority of their people is hard to fathom”.

Emma Espiner despairs that there will no longer be a “kaupapa Maori” voice in government: “Some may be cheering the fact that the Maori Party have been punished for dealing with National and say good riddance to government. But as the decisions are made at a Cabinet table with no strong Maori voice, that could look like a Pyrrhic victory. Be careful what you wish for” – see: The death of the Maori Party.

Espiner adds: “You wake up the morning after the election and who are your champions? Where is Metiria Turei, Te Ururoa Flavell, Hone Harawira, and worst of all – Marama Fox?”

Anger and bitterness from Marama Fox

TVNZ’s Marae programme had an excellent post-election episode – watch the hour-long programme here: Marae – Sunday 24 Sep. The most interesting interview was with Marama Fox, Marama Davidson and Willie Jackson. The fiery discussion starts with Fox saying, “Right now I’m just annoyed. I’m so angry… Congratulations Labour – you got exactly what you wanted.”

Fox has voiced her bitterness about the result in other interviews too. On Maori TV, she was angry that voters had shifted to Labour: “What I think the whanau have done is they’ve gone back to the mothership. They’ve gone back like a beaten wife to the abuser who has abused our people over and over again” – see Leo Horgan’s Maori have ‘gone back like a beaten wife to the abuser’ – Marama Fox.

She expresses her commiserations to the Ikaroa-Rawhiti electorate for re-electing Labour candidate Meka Whaitiri, and explains why she refuses to concede the election to her opponent: “I don’t concede because conceding means that we let red and blue government rule our people like they’ve done so for a hundred and fifty years.”

Similarly, in another interview with Mihingarangi Forbes on The Hui, Fox says voters have chosen to “go back to the age of colonisation, where the paternalistic parties of red and blue tell Māori how to live” – see Dan Satherley’s NZ voted for return to ‘the age of colonisation’ – Marama Fox.

She bemoans working harder than any “waste of space” Labour MPs, and concludes “obviously hard work does not get rewarded in this country”. This continued on from an interview last week in which she admonished other Maori MPs for “not standing up for Maori rights and issues” – see Dan Satherley’s Labour’s Maori MPs are ‘whipped’ – Marama Fox. The same article reports that “If she could do away with both the major parties, she would.”

The defeat and devastation of Te Ururoa Flavell

Te Ururoa Flavell appeared to be genuinely shocked at losing on Saturday. Shane Cowlishaw reported: “Flavell himself was a mixture of disbelief and barely contained anger after conceding defeat. His plan was to put in three more years and step away from politics on a high. But that dream is no more and he ruled out running again. He hinted at potential disquiet within the party, saying there were “things to discuss with the executive” but now was not the time. Ultimately, he took responsibility but dismissed suggestions the party had become too close to National” – see: The Maori Party meltdown.

Flavell forecasts that Maori voters will come to regret turning away from his party: “Te Ao Maori is going to wake up and say ‘what the hang happened?’ and I’ll say ‘you spoke, you gave it, that’s how it is’.”

He tells Maori voters not to come to him if their choice doesn’t work out: “I hope they don’t wake up tomorrow and start shaking their heads, saying, I feel sorry for you, because I don’t want to hear it… I don’t want to hear people talk about tino rangatiratanga, I don’t want to hear people talk about mana motuhake because we had it in our hands and it’s gone” – see Elton Rikihana Smallman’s Te Ururoa Flavell won’t be part of a Māori Party revival.

Talking to RNZ’s Craig McCulloch, the party co-leader said that after his loss, he “had ‘lost a bit of faith’ in his people and did not ever want to return as an MP” – see: Maori Party demise signals end to Flavell’s career.

But it’s not only the media and party co-leaders expressing regret about the Maori Party’s demise. According to Claire Trevett, “The downfall of the party’s MPs was regretted by fellow politicians across the spectrum – from Green leader James Shaw to National MP Judith Collins and even the party’s arch nemesis Winston Peters” – see: Maori Party starts on long road to try rebuilding by 2020 after being booted out of Parliament.

Finally, it won’t be much solace to Fox and Flavell, but Parliament now looks set to have 28 Maori MPs, and to see who they are in each party, see Tepara Koti’s Who are our Maori Members of Parliament now?