Byelection Battle for the North – Labour Party

Byelection Battle for the North – Labour Party

Labour Candidate Kelvin Davis, a former principal, is unlikely to win outright on June 25.  Labour came second in 2008, gaining 6,000 votes to Hone Harawira’s 12,000. By-election history suggests there will be fewer overall votes’ recent newspaper polls indicate that won’t change.

Maori are no longer committed to playing a minor role within dominant Pakeha caucus. Labour’s 1980s economic restructuring, the 2004 Foreshore and Seabed Act and the increased mana Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia secured with ministerial positions alongside National remain fresh in the Maori psyche.

Labour’s opportunity rests on coming through the middle of a split between the Maori and Mana parties, although Labour  may be  reading too much on the 2008 party vote which  it won by 9,200 to 6,204 votes. Maori voters are especially strategic and that vote was in support of an alliance between the Maori and Labour parties rather than one for Labour. Party votes count for nothing in by-elections.

Labour risks losing out in a Mana versus Maori battle. Labour is polling poorly and Mana already appears to be making inroads into traditional Labour territory – the poor hurting under hikes in GST, food and petrol. The new party could well reach into the heart of Labour’s middle-class support in education and health unions. Davis will want to highlight the impact of Budget cuts on student loans, Working for Families and KiwiSaver. That may be in vain. Given the economic downturn, the Maori Party has done quite well setting aside more funding for Whanau Ora, more kura kaupapa, the Kotahitanga programme for secondary school teaching which is turning around Pakeha teacher attitudes, the upcoming constitutional review and treaty claims processes.

Davis might think twice about pursuing Shane Jones’ accusation the Maori Party has obscured statistics to hide the fact that new funding comprises only $20 million of the $200 million Maori vote. While that may be, it is $1 million more new money than Labour gave Maori in a vote of $170 million in 2007. At the time, Sharples described it as tokenistic at the time –proof that Maori politicians are as realpolitik as Pakeha.

The Maori Party can well argue that redirection is an ongoing and appropriate response to Labour’s mainstreaming of Maori funding following Don Brash’s 2004 Orewa speech.  Labour deputy leader Annette King has already said she supports the Whanau Ora concept.

Moreover, the $600 million the Maori Party claims to have secured in three budgets (2009-2011) is significantly more than Parekura Horomia secured in his last three.

More convincingly, Davis can argue that there is no direct money to address Maori unemployment.

Expect Labour MPs flying in to support Davis, although that could backfire as trendy city folk – even Maori ones – will not cut it in a district of high Maori unemployment.

Davis’ weakness is that Jones and biculturally awkward leader Phil Goff are doing all the talking. Goff often pre-empts Maori issues. Maori MPs Parekura Horomia and Nanaia Mahuta have already contradicted his decision not to work with Mr Harawira. Northerners prefer people who speak for themselves.

Davis has nothing to lose and everything to gain. He has a solid reputation for work in the community, and sound, if not yet stellar, record in parliament and he is high enough on the Labour list to ensure he returns in November. He will add mana by cutting into Harawira’s 6,000 plus majority. Topping the Maori Party would be a bonus.

If Labour does win they will sink Mana and set up the recapture of seats lost to the Maori Party in 2008.

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