Rodney Hide has announced his resignation as leader of the Act Party and cleared the way for Don Brash to assume the leadership. Hide will remain as a minister.
I can’t help but feel a little bit sorry for Hide. He has been embarrassed, degraded, assaulted and ultimately destroyed in a very, very public spectacle. But we are dealing with Don Brash here – the most morally bankrupt man in New Zealand politics so it’s hardly surprising is it? Perhaps what is most interesting, for me at least, is who is behind all of this. The Hollow Men showed that Brash was a mere puppet who was easily manipulated and led by a few puppet masters. But who is the puppet master(s) now?
But anyway, that is a side issue. In this post I want to discuss what a Brash led Act Party means for the Maori Party.
Most commentators seem to agree that Brash will increase the Act Party’s declining political stocks. Some also believe Brash will deliver much needed stability. So what does a resurgent and stable Act Party mean for the Maori Party?... It means the Maori Party will become irrelevant.
At the moment the Maori Party is expendable – the party can be disregarded without affecting the ability of the National government to command the confidence of the House. However, the Maori Party is viewed as the National Party’s best shot at a long term coalition partner. The Maori Party has a secure grip on two seats (Te Tai Hauauru and Waiariki), a somewhat firm grip on one seat (Tamaki Makaurau), a marginal grip on one seat (Te Tai Tonga) and the ability to run hard in the other two Maori seats. This means the party is almost guaranteed to return, at the very least, two MP’s. The party was, prior to the Hone Harawira saga, stable as well.
On the other hand Act was seen as incredibly unstable. The party was rocked by a number of personal controversies and policy blunders, for example the Supercity legislation. Act did not enjoy a secure grip on an electorate seat either and most commentators believed the party would not breach the 5% threshold. Combine this and the prospects of Act remaining in Parliament were slim.
It was prudent of the National Party to regard the Maori Party as the best medium to long term coalition partner. As far as coalition partners go, the National Party do not have many to choose from. The Prime Minister ruled out working with Winston Peters, United Future will probably not grow and Peter Dunne will not be around in two terms time and Act is, or at least was, knocking on deaths door. The chances of a new right party forming also looked incredibly slim. In practical terms this left only the Maori Party. Ideologically speaking the Maori Party had the ability to gel with the National Party and the Maori party’s leaders, Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples, are a conservative and pragmatist respectively. This fitted well with National’s inherent conservatism and John Key’s brand of pragmatism. The Maori Party is neither left nor right and can be used, depending on circumstance, to pass right wing or left wing legislation as well. It’s a perfect fit for a government trying to play the game both ways i.e. left and right.
However, the Act Party appears to have changed trajectory. Most analysts accept the party will rise again. Remember Brash was responsible for the National Party’s huge rise post 2002. His rhetoric surrounding social issues appealed to a huge number of New Zealanders and it is difficult to see why the same formula will not work today in the wake of the MCA act controversy. So with Act on the comeback trail the Maori Party suddenly becomes redundant.
Act is the National Party’s natural ally. In cohort with Act the Nats can continue to occupy the centre. The centre is where major parties aim to be and under a Maori Party/National Party arrangement the Nats would be busy attempting to occupy the right given the Maori Party’s more natural tendency to reside on the left. Ultimately, the Nat’s would be busy trying to cover vast ideological ground in the absence of a coalition partner firmly classed on the right. However, with Act the Nats do not have to worry so much about nursing to the right and the party can focus on retaining the centre. Act would also be more willing to pass some of the more populist legislation that could be defined as anti-Maori, for example welfare attacks.
So with Brash at the helm of Act we can reasonably assume the party will see an increase in support. This makes the Maori Party expendable in the long term.
Another effect that a Brash led Act party will have is that it will probably kill the National/Act/Maori arrangement. Brash is a notorious racist and probably the most hated man in the Maori world. It is also impossible to reconcile Brash’s public stance in regards to Maori with Maori Party policy and values. I would expect Maori Party supporters to firmly oppose Brash and his prescription for Maori. Brash is a libertarian. Individualism and the supremacy of the individual underpin libertarian philosophy. Whereas the Maori Party stands for, or at least claims to stand for, tino rangatiratanga. Tino rangatiratanga is built upon the notion of the collective. Collective responsibility, collective rights and so on. The two are wildly incompatible.
Essentially, Brash does not believe in the concept of race. It logically follows that he cannot work with a party predicated on the notion of race and rights by virtue of race. Also, in a personal capacity, how can Maori Party MP’s work with a man who has done more damage to the reputation and standing of their people than any other politician in the last two decades. Brash is an open and shameless racist.
Brash will push for positions that are anathema to Maori. It is just impossible that the Maori Party could sit by in coalition with a man delivering racist rubbish. Maori will not stand for another repeat of Orewa.
To sum up (I’ve kinda forgot where I was going with this) a resurgent and stable Act party means the Maori Party will become expendable in the long term. If Act is looking like a future prospect then there is no need for the Maori Party in the National Party’s calculations. Furthermore, the Maori Party will not work with Brash – a dishonourable and tarnished racist. The Party is just too dissimilar. For this country’s sake, I hope Brash does not come within one hundred kilometres of government. For once I agree with Winston Peters:
"A John Key-Don Brash coalition would asset strip the country, keep wages low and attack superannuation."