Harawira problem won’t go away
Ever since the Mana by-election in November, it has been obvious that Hone Harawira’s relationship with the Maori Party was headed for divorce.
Since then, the party leadership has been doing what it can to minimise the backlash against them from Maori, for booting out their favourite son. Faint chance.
No matter how the expulsion is rationalised, it will be impossible to deny Harawira the martyrdom he has been seeking ever since he went to bat for Matt McCarten in Mana, at the same time as Tariana Turia was throwing her support behind the National candidate, Hekia Parata.
Essentially, Harawira has decided he can no longer play the role of the party’s tame house radical. To date, his presence has only served to validate the party’s concessions to the Key Government.
So long as Harawira stayed on board – and remained willing to vote within the House for government legislation that he was happy to criticise outside it – the testy relationship could continue.
However, the paltry gains to Maori from re-writing the foreshore and seabed legislation have now made Harawira’s continued complicity in the whole charade untenable. Worse is now on the horizon. Come the end of February, the policy recommendations likely to emerge from the Government’s working group on welfare reform would be impossible for Harawira to swallow in the short term, let alone to campaign for in election year.
So what does the future hold for the turbulent MP from Te Tai Tokerau, once he does strike out alone?
For months, there has been speculation that Harawira will form a new political party on the left, in association with Sue Bradford, McCarten and others. Nothing would please the Maori Party more.
The real danger Harawira poses to his former colleagues would be if he stayed on as a true independent, as a sole voice of integrity for Maori against what he could then denounce as those sell-outs in Cabinet.
If Harawira hitches his wagon to the remnants of the old Alliance, he would blur his standing with his Maori constituents.
If he runs alone this year, Harawira can choose next year whether to form a new left-wing party, or bid to be the saviour of a diminished Maori Party.
At the very least, by staying simply as the independent MP for Te Tai Tokerau, Harawira could pull the Maori Party to the left in the upcoming election campaign and make it virtually impossible for them to support Key after the election.
The options for Harawira are all attractive, and time is on his side. For the Maori Party, the reverse applies. Over New Year, it will have become apparent to Turia and Pita Sharples that they would have to banish their errant MP sooner or later.
Gordon Campbell is an experienced political journalist and columnist who has written for The Listener and Scoop.