|Sir Michael Joseph Savage, father of the Labour-Maori alliance|
In 1932 Eruera Tirikatene won the byelection for Southern Maori. Tirikatene became the Ratana movement’s first MP. In 1935 Haami Tokoru Ratana secured Western Maori – the movement’s second seat. When Tirikatene took office the movement instructed him – and later Haami Tokoru Ratana – to vote with Labour. Recognising the electoral potential, Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage and Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana (the movement's founder) met in 1936 and established the Ratana-Labour alliance.
In an effort to sanctify the relationship, TW Ratana presented Savage with five symbolic gifts:
- Three huia feathers. The feathers represented Maori. The huia is extinct – killed by introduced species and habitat loss – and its death represented the struggle of the past century.
- A pounamu hei tiki. The pounamu represented mana Maori.
- A kumara (or potato depending on the source). The kumara represented the land taken from Maori (i.e. the loss of the Maori sustenance base) and ongoing poverty.
- A broken gold watch. The watch represented the broken promises of the Crown including the broken promise of the Treaty.
- And a badge shaped as a whetu marama (crescent moon). The crescent moon represents te tohu o te Maramatanga – a sign of enlightenment.
I don't believe that. Well, not entirely. Maori have a 77 year relationship with Labour. But despite the depth and symbolism of that relationship, it's been one-sided. Maori voters awarded Labour with a 50 year monopoly in the Maori seats. In 2011 Labour won more than 40% of the party vote in the Maori seats and more than 50% in previous elections. But that loyalty has often been sacrificed to expediency.
How Shane Jones is treated when he (inevitably) loses the leadership race will determine the health of the Labour-Maori alliance (it's no longer a Labour-Ratana alliance). Maori are watching closely.
It's argued that right wing governments have helped Maori to climb the greasy pole better than their Labour counterparts. Sir James Carroll was a deputy Prime Minister and Acting Prime Minister in the Liberal government in 1909 and 1911. The Liberal Party was a precursor to the National Party. In 1996 Winston Peters secured the deputy Prime Ministership in a National government. There's also Ngata and more recently Parata, Bennett, Bridges and so on. A similar tradition of Maori leaders is harder to find in the Labour Party.
But Labour has done more for Maori as a people, apparently. I take that view as correct. It was Norman Kirk who appointed Matiu Rata Minister of Maori Affairs - the first Maori to hold the position since Ngata - and the third Labour government that created the Waitangi Tribunal and the fourth Labour government that empowered the tribunal to investigate historical claims. The establishment of the tribunal and the Treaty settlement process has done more to influence Maori development than, say, Winston Peters holding the deputy prime ministership ever did.
But symbolism can't be ignored. There's historical context. If Labour continues to refuse to put Maori in positions of power and leadership, the perception will strengthen that Labour treats Maori as vote fodder. With the Maori Party to the right and Mana and the Greens to the left, Labour is in danger of destroying the Maori-Labour alliance. There's choice in the Maori seats now. Labour can't rely on being the best of a bad lot.
So here's the call: there's no need to elect Shane Jones to reaffirm the Labour-Maori alliance. David Cunliffe seems to have some mandate from members of the Maori caucus and he has made noises around the importance of winning a mandate from tangata whenua. But if Shane Jones isn't given a leadership position after the race - top 5 or better top 3 - then Labour can expect another decrease in its vote in the Maori seats. And who could blame us. It's sometimes a one-sided relationship.
Post-script: here's an earlier post I did on Shane's run. And again for transparency: I've already declared for DC, but I want to keep putting context to Shane's run. He might be sexist, but his run represents far more than an egomaniacal sexist running for the sake of his own perception of self importance.