The news yesterday that Maori Party President Tuku Morgan and Mana Party Co-Leader Hone Harawira are talking about ending the split between the two parties threatens Winston Peters’ inexorable march to holding the balance of power after the next election.
The rapprochement has its origins in a campaign by Maori Party MP Marama Fox to get the two parties talking.
She made this clear in an interview on June 22 on the Radio Waatea 5th Estate programme when she was joined by Mr Harawira.
Mr Harawira said he knew she had been trying o convince the Maori Party that it should end the split for some time, but it had been falling on deaf ears.
He said he too wanted the split to end, and he too had found his calls falling on deaf ears in the Mana Party.
He said that if Maori wanted an independent voice, he wouldn’t care what it was called or who was the leader.
Mr Harawira and Ms Fox want Maori to hold the balance of power, and that would necessarily sideline Winston Peters and NZ First.
The deal appeared to be sealed yesterday when Mr Morgan had breakfast with Mr Harawira, and RNZ reported that Mr Harawira also said he was open to a formal merger or alliance with the Māori Party.
In a statement following the meeting, Maori Party co-leaders Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox said they wanted to reiterate there was “currently no appetite for a formal alliance” between the two parties.
But they said the Māori Party was open to a “more cohesive relationship”.
As figures in Maori politics began to digest the news it became clear that if the two parties agreed to do a deal on electorate seats so that Mr Harawira could return to Parliament, then the Maori Party might also be able to persuade Mana not to stand in Tamaki Makaurau and Te Tai Hauauru, which based on the last election results, would hand both of those seats over from Labour to the Maori Party.
However, it is not clear how much support Mr Morgan and Ms Fox have from Maori Party Co-Leader Te Ururoa Flavell. Both Mr Flavell and Mr Harawira have in the past each said in they could not work with each other.
But Ms Fox’s strategy, which is to hold the balance of power at the expense of New Zealand First, was clearly laid out on the Waatea interview.
“Everyone is pinning their hopes on Winston to be the kingmaker,” she said, talking about the next election.
“But if the Maori vote comes home to the Maori Party then we absolutely could be the kingmaker at the next election.
“It’s not going to come down to 30 seats, or 12 seats.
“It will come down to four or five seats and we want to have those seats.”
One prominent former Maori politician says this proposal is attractive to Mr Morgan because of the antipathy between him and Winston Peters which dates back to when NZ First broke up in 1998 and Mr Morgan joined Mauri Pacific.
National believes it will need the Maori Party to form a Government after the next election and has been actively courting it with its reluctance to embrace its own right wing who oppose Maori getting special rights under reforms to the Resource Management Act and potentially in any solution to the allocation of water.
But whether National would want to have the party as kingmaker is another matter.
It has already faced widespread criticism from within its own ranks that it has made too many concessions to Maori anyway.
And whether National would be prepared to rely on a Maori Party, which in turn was dependent on Mr Harawira to get extra MPs is also another matter.
On the same Waatea programme, he described National as “scumbags” and said, “I don’t want to go anywhere near them.”
But he was also critical of Labour and argued that though they won six Maori seats at the last election they didn’t deserve them because they had done nothing to justify talking them back.
Kelvin Davis, the Labour MP who defeated Mr Harawira at the last election was bemused by the events of yesterday.
He noted Mr Harawira’s often acrimonious political career and said: “From our point of view, the sooner he’s in the Maori Party, the sooner he’ll destroy them, so go for it!”
There will be more than a few Maori politicians who may agree with that.