Confessions of a moderate Maori voter…(If that’s OK with you, that is).

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On my Facebook feed this morning I read the following status update written by a friend. It made me wonder. This was a cry from the heart for something that Maori have apparently lost. This woman was just..

[r]emembering the days when we weren’t separated by our political beliefs but were connected through kaupapa, whakapapa, hope, and making Aotearoa a wonderful and amazing place to live.

The many likes and comments on this status showed that quite a few people were agreeing with this thinking: Maori have become too politically divided, too self interested, too disconnected from this things that really matter, to divorced from the kaupapa. Maori live in a fallen, individualistic world. The answer to the fall is somehow to rediscover cohesiveness between ourselves as a people, remember the ties that bind us, to reject those things that divide. That’s a pretty powerful vision, especially for a people, such as Maori who, research and our own discourse tells us, aremore likely than Pakeha toadhere to collectivist practices and values.

True to my own bloodymindedness I read the question aboveand thought…’um..no I don’t remember that time, because I’m not sure it ever happened.’ I thinkthat if we apply the microscope to any period of Maori social and political history what looks like unity and cohesiveness mutates and disappears before our very eyes. Maori value collectivism, including securing collective outcomes (even if only at the expense of other Maori collectives) sure, but that has nevertranslated to hive-think. Our mythology is suffused with stories of conflict, especially between siblings or cousins, and between grandchildren and grandparents, Tane separating Rangi and Papa in the face of opposition from Tawhirimatea, Maui’s enduring conflicts and collaborations with his brothers in fishing up Aotearoa and slowing Tama-Nui-te-Ra, and in Maui stealing his ancestor’s jawbone, Tawhaki overcoming the hatred and jealousy of his cousins or brothers-in-law, and tricking his grandmother by filchingher taro tubers in his and his brother’s quest to ascend to the highest levels of heaven. And so on. Any number of other myths show intense rivalry,conflict and sometimes desperate cooperation before fundamental change is able to take place. Maori mythology does not present us with homogeneity. The towering figures of these narratives are intimately bound by whakapapa, but fightfuriously for different visions of how the world ought to be. Maori mythology gives us a pretty good template for modern Maori politics and, in that light, makes the split between Hone Harawira and the Maori Party seem positively pre-ordained. I’m not sure what the template would be for the coming together of the disparate elements of Internet Mana, but hey, there would be something in there somewhere…maybe.

A couple of the comments on the status I mentioned above refer to a dismay that Maori are not only divided, but can to be seen across the political spectrum. As one said: ‘Frustrating I would say! Look at our mates in every camp!’ This reminded me of the many comments made in the wake of National releasing its list in July. With 2 Maori women in the top 10 (Hekia Parata and Paula Bennet) some commentwas made on the left of the spectrum of those women’s betrayal of Maoridom by their alliance with National. As one Facebooker commenting on Annette Syke’s posted link sharing the listwrote:

Yes agreed and to be honest if getting a promotion up the ranks is a result of screwing over your own people then it’s not really something to be proud of.

Thetenor of such comments reflects once again the dearly-held notion that a true Maori political vision is a unified one, and those who cross into other political fields, away from the perceived locus of Maori political cohesiveness, are betraying Maori.I just can’t buy that. But that’s because I’m a hopeless political moderate (more on that below)

So whileMaori political representatives are spreading throughout the political spectrum more easily in MMPtimeswhat can be said about the other part of that equation: Maori voters?

It is probably not a terribly original observation that our voting behaviours (and not-voting behaviours) can reveal a lot about us and how we became formed as individuals. Voting itself is an intimate thing; no matter the promises you make to others, or the signals you send out to the world at large and the people who care to listen, the moment in the voting booth is just between you and your conscience. Of course, we can never know exactly howpeople vote, we can only know what people choose to tell us about how they voted.

Still it might be good in the lead up to this election, in the wake of all the Dirty Politics palaver, to take a quiet moment or three to work out why we vote as we do (or don’t vote, as the case may be). For some of us our inner voter/non-voter might have been created by a coherent set of political principles held from an early age that we adhere to through the years. Perhaps we vote because of how our whanau and our tupuna voted. Political beliefs might be analogous to a religious belief, in these kinds of cases. Only a crisis of faith caused by some true political upheaval(like the Foreshore and Seabed Act, and the consequent rise of the Maori Party, for example) might cause a deviation for these kinds of voters. Were there identifiable moments in our pasts, discrete incidents that sealed our voting fates? Were there moments that forced us to give up an old allegiance or create a new one? How might these eventshave helped create us as individual votersor non-voters?Or is it a messy accretion and conglomeration of experiences and beliefs that have created our voting personas?

There are some limited things we do know, or think we know, about how Maori voters behave. We know, for example, that about 55% of Maori are enrolled on the Maori Roll, with 45% enrolled on the General Roll. Young Maori are more likelyto be non-voters, and there is some evidence to suggest that Maori enrolled on the Maori roll are more likely to be involved in Maori communities and more likely to vote. Maori in Australia are more likely than New Zealand-based Maori to be politically apathetic. We also know that Maori are far more likely to give their party votes to Labour, but also,to vote split.

But the stats and research don’t tell us anything really about how Maori voters and non-voters arrive at their voting decisions.

So how are Maori formed into the Maori voters or non-voters about to participate in, or ignore, the coming General Election? I’d love to see your whakaaro on this in any comments you might like to leave! This is not so much a question about howyou intend to vote (or not vote), but what set you on that path. Karawhiua!

And now for the confession part…(cos that’s what it says in the title)

The unpalatable truth, for what it’s worth, is: I’m a moderate centrist. So moderate as to be infuriating to anyone with actual political conviction. I’m sure if former PM Sir Geoffrey Palmer was todescribesomeone like me he would say ‘She is in irredeemably moderate person.’ (In case that sounds odd, I’m referring to the time he once called NZ an‘irredeemably pluvial country’, meaning: it rains a lot.) In my view this centrism means I prefer a political vision that takes most people with it. Therefore I eschew the edges of mainstream political thought that serve few people.But, until Maori have a full economic role in this country, we will continue to fall short of all we can be as a country. And, no, I have not made my mind up yet on who to vote for.

But even for an horrifically moderate centrist like me, there is a kind of whakapapa to my (and everybody’s) voting persona. Why am I so resistant to that which is beyond the political mainstream?

I remember our home’s ‘carless day’from the Muldoon era circa 1979. It was a Monday. I was 9. I didn’t care. Nor did I care about things Maori in those days, although I sporadically went to ‘Mahrey Club’ (Te Kotahitanga Juniors actually, with the extraordinary and extraordinarily scary (to me) Tihi Puanaki) because my brother did. Not long after, prices andwages were frozenfor a couple of years. I had no idea what that meant either. All I do remember was my mother’s heartbreak when Labour won the 1984 election. ‘Not those bastards!’, she groaned. Muldoon had been an economics whizkid, he was on the board of governors on the IMF! And the World Bank! (I was just impressed that there was such a thing as a Bank of the World..) What the hell did that upstart from Manggerry know about running an economy?! The choice New Zealand voters appeared to have, in my mother’s view, was between control and, well, absence ofcontrol. National represented for me, in those formative years, stability, familiarity and economic knowhow in the obvious absence of my own knowhow. Labour represented the fly-by night government that would only last one term. I really internalised my mother’s distrust of the Left. I rebelled against her in so many other ways, but not in my politics. I learnedas a kidto distrust politicians that I perceived (regardless of the objective truth of the matter) to be unstable and inexperienced.

For my first election (1990) I had no understanding then of what Maori may have stood to lose or gain from the policies of political parties. I don’t think I really had, throughout my teenage years, a concept of Maori as, in part at least, an identifiable voting bloc. Those of us who were Maoriat our overwhelmingly Pakeha high school were too busy trying to be Maori enough to be distinctive, but not so Maori as to fright any well-bred horses. My first brush with actual politics came when I met David Lange in 1988 when he came and spoke to a bunch of us somewhat start-struck teenagers working at the Brisbane World Expo about how how he and his government had brought the winds of neo-liberal change to our previously stilted and fun-less lives. We were the vanguard of change, apparently. Us and our shiny newness and our eagerness and our willingness to believe that we could do anything and be anything we wanted. But then I shook his hand and he wouldn’t meet my eyes. So there went my vote. I then becamewary of what I saw as larger than life political personas. The eyes might just be empty.

I was on the Maori roll by then, not because I had any idea of what Maori political aspirations were, or need were. I just wanted to be able to identify in a civic manner, that I was Maori. I became one of a handful of outliers to vote for National in the then Southern Maori seat in the 1990 election. The following years saw me drift slowly Left, and I’m I’m not even sure why. I don’t think I knew why I voted why I did. There was no epiphany.

The final moment for me came in 2004 on the day of the Hikoi to Parliament on the Foreshore and Seabed debacle. Two moments actually. One came in the grounds of Parliament hearing and seeing the veneration expressed for Tariana Turia as the leader of a new age. I saw the huge posters of her smiling face, and I had another Lange moment. I didn’t want to put my trust in a saviour for Maori who would rescue Maoridom from the Pakeha Pharaoh. The second moment came from hearing two Pakeha ladies at my work, after the Hikoi, sneer at the marchers, one of them saying something that sounded suspiciously like ‘If I had a gun…’. That moment solidified for me that Pakeha mainstream politics could not deliver good outcomes for all Maori without Maori being part of designing and delivering those outcomes. Voting for parties pursuing a Maori vision then became possible for a centrist like me. But I have no illusions that that Maori vision requires homogeneity of thought and a harmonious unity that has never really existed, not even in our mythology.

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