“The community”: a contrast between Māori and Pakeha elites

datePosted on 06:00, January 22nd, 2009 by Anita

Since last year’s election there has been a lot of talk about the tenability of the relationship between the Māori Party and National.

On the one hand National’s hard right policies will hurt many Māori voters; how much damage can the Māori Party let their electorate sustain from their parliamentary partners? What concessions can the MP gain that will outweigh the effects of National’s privatisation and their transfer of wealth from the poorest to the richest?

On the other hand the Māori Party is dominated by, to quote John Tamihere, the “relatively wealthy, educated elite” just as the National Party is the party of the Pakeha wealthy educated elite. Like peas in a pod, perhaps these two parties of the elites are made for each other. Interesting analysis on this possibility is available all over the media (e.g. The Herald) and blogs (e.g. Against the current). The analysis, good though it is, has tended to overlook the fact that while the Māori and Pakeha elites have many things in common, their cultural differences are significant too.

One of the areas often discussed as common ground between the parties is provision of social services: both want to transfer service provision (and the funding for it) from the state to “the community”. It looks like an agreement, but what do they mean by “the community”?

National’s view of community social service provision is to pay a small number of large corporates or NGOs to provide bulk social services, just like the big companies they’ve worked for in the private sector. The Māori Party, quite differently, imagine many small iwi, runanga and hapu based providers, with perhaps some provision by Urban Māori Authorities. To the Māori Party the key to community provision is local targeted care by traditional Māori structures.

This cultural gulf recurs throughout the apparent policy agreements between National and the Māori Party. Another example, National wants to privatise health care provision by offering it to large privately owned hospital providers like those Michael Woodhouse lobbied for in his years in the NZ Private Surgical Hospitals Association and the NZ Private Hospitals Association. The Māori Party wants to strengthen and develop the many Hauora built by iwi and hapu throughout the country, just like the one Hone Harawira helped set up in the Far North.

That may be the final ideological divide: the difference between a “community” consisting of corporates and their shareholders, and a “community” of iwi and hapu.

19 Responses to ““The community”: a contrast between Māori and Pakeha elites”

  1. jcuknz on January 22nd, 2009 at 08:15

    Some long as I get fixed when I am sick I don’t give a damm how it is done and I think efficient health care is not the sole preserve of a government run and owned system. The problem with the left is that they think in black and white terms and refuse to permit the use of all service providers for the benefit of all in need. Blinkered thinking I am afraid. Please don’t dismiss me as a right wing troll because I am not one of them.

  2. Lew on January 22nd, 2009 at 08:59

    Anita,

    The nature of all political parties is that they tend to be dominated by ‘relatively wealthy, educated elites’. This is because many of the same characteristics which make someone electable (intelligence, eloquence, networking skills, policy nous, ambition, a broad opportunistic streak, etc), have often previously made them successful in their chosen field. The sorts of people we tend to choose to be led by are elites by definition.

    I agree with your final comments, that the relationship is one of opportunity and convenience, and that the main task is to reconcile the two ideological groups to which they’re indebted. But I don’t see how the critique on the basis of eliteness applies more closely to the māori party than to any other.

    L

  3. George Darroch on January 22nd, 2009 at 13:54

    I don’t think it will be that much of a stretch for National, particularly if they get a second term.

    I think that National will happily have a impure model for expediences sake, with corporate/NGO/corporate-NGO for non-Māori , Hauora and Runanga services for Māori, and the state to be relegated as a health provider of last resort for those who can’t afford adequate private healthcare. To this end, expect to see them run down public healthcare in the next few years while dramatically increasing subsidies to private companies (as they’re starting to do in education), in order to create “a crisis in the sector”, or at least the impression of one.

  4. George Darroch on January 22nd, 2009 at 13:57

    Lew, in my experience, there are a number of parties in NZ that are/were led by those from a range of backgrounds. Sure, they’re talented people, but that doesn’t mean that they represent NZ’s elite.

  5. Lew on January 22nd, 2009 at 14:33

    George Darroch: My point is that being in a position to lead or be elected to public office makes you an elite by definition.

    In terms of economic, political and social capital, MPs generally (and local body councillors, etc) from any party have more in common with each other than they do with their electors.

    L

  6. StephenR on January 22nd, 2009 at 15:36

    Sounds like you’ve been reading a bit of Bryce Edwards Lew. If not, he uses the phrase ‘the political class’ to encompass what you said. He also uses it to…reflect the professionalisation of politics, I think.

  7. Anita on January 22nd, 2009 at 15:56

    jcuknz,

    I promise faithfully to write a post about public/private health service provision so that we can talk about it :)

    In the meantime… public, private corporate and hauora provision all have strengths and weaknesses. How practical is a blend of all three?

  8. Anita on January 22nd, 2009 at 15:59

    Lew,

    I agree with your final comments, that the relationship is one of opportunity and convenience, and that the main task is to reconcile the two ideological groups to which they’re indebted. But I don’t see how the critique on the basis of eliteness applies more closely to the māori party than to any other.

    I agree it’s no more relevant to the Māori party than any other, but it is an important analysis because people sometimes think that because Māori voters have traditionally voted along class lines as a working class bloc, which has lead to some rather confusing analysis of the Māori Party as a whole.

  9. Lew on January 22nd, 2009 at 16:47

    Anita: Yeah. I’ve been particularly exasperated by the howls from certain quarters of `you don’t know what’s good for you!’ in response to the māori party’s decision to pair with the Nats. Yeah, they might be right – but isn’t it the party’s and its constituency’s decision to make?

    Back on-topic now :)

    L

  10. Lew on January 22nd, 2009 at 18:15

    StephenR: I’m aware of Bryce, but not familiar with his work. It sounds like we might agree on this issue.

    L

  11. millsy on January 22nd, 2009 at 19:55

    I always thought that the Maori Party is composed of the iwi elite, as well as a few academics and ethnic nationalists to make up the numbers.

    We only have to look at who benefits from the likes of iwi ownership of Foreshore and seabed, treaty settlements and so on….

  12. MacDoctor on January 22nd, 2009 at 22:55

    George:

    To this end, expect to see them run down public healthcare in the next few years while dramatically increasing subsidies to private companies (as they’re starting to do in education), in order to create “a crisis in the sector”, or at least the impression of one.

    There already is a crisis in health care. A crisis caused by two sets of governments happily fulfilling their ideological fantasies instead of concentrating on getting it right. There is a shortage in health personnel right across the board, including an acute shortage of GPs. The reason why you don’t think there is one at the moment is because the normal way to deal with staff shortages is not to stop services, but to make them more inconvenient.
    – Longer waiting times
    – harder to access
    – further to travel
    – more barriers to entry
    – restrictive conditions

    Sound familiar?

  13. Anita on January 23rd, 2009 at 09:44

    Lew writes,

    Anita: Yeah. I’ve been particularly exasperated by the howls from certain quarters of `you don’t know what’s good for you!’ in response to the māori party’s decision to pair with the Nats. Yeah, they might be right – but isn’t it the party’s and its constituency’s decision to make?

    Part of what particularly interests me about this is my hunch that the Māori Party understand just how big the cultural gulf between them and National is (surrounded by a dominant Pakeha culture how could they miss it?) but that National may not have really understood it yet. National may well here the “community provision” and “getting the state out of our families” rhetoric and thought that it means to the Māori Party exactly what it means in a National strategist’s head.

  14. Tim Ellis on January 27th, 2009 at 23:54

    The nature of all political parties is that they tend to be dominated by ‘relatively wealthy, educated elites’. This is because many of the same characteristics which make someone electable (intelligence, eloquence, networking skills, policy nous, ambition, a broad opportunistic streak, etc), have often previously made them successful in their chosen field. The sorts of people we tend to choose to be led by are elites by definition.

    That’s a very good point Lew. I really don’t think anybody would seriously argue that Labour’s Maori MPs have been plucked from grass-roots Maori in the past. Nanaia Mahuta, Dover Samuels, and Parekura Horomia all spring to mind. Nor is the Labour Party some non-elite political caucus, as they are heavily dominated by a very evident academic and union elite.

    I suppose the major difference with the Maori Party is that they aren’t beholden to a larger group with whom they have to compromise. The same couldn’t be said of Labour’s Maori caucus in the past, as their position on the foreshore and seabed legislation showed. Maori Party MPs don’t have those restrictions. They went into an agreement with National knowing that they would only do so if they could improve outcomes for their constituency over and above what the alternative would have been (a Government with no Maori Party influence).

    It’s a pity that the Greens didn’t have the same open mind to do likewise.

    It seems to me that a lot of the swiping from some people on the Left towards the Maori Party is quite patronising. It’s got more to do with trying to tell Maori what’s good for them than wanting better outcomes for Maori.

  15. Lew on January 28th, 2009 at 09:47

    I suppose the major difference with the Maori Party is that they aren’t beholden to a larger group with whom they have to compromise.

    If you mean a larger group in parliament, then you’re absolutely right. They are beholden to their constituency, much more so than other parties because their mandate derives from hui, not solely from winning votes. But yes; the fact that they’ve been a Māori voting bloc in parliament who can’t be whipped by a non-Māori power bloc has been their claim to independence (and a central theme of my research into the party and its kaupapa). They have sacrificed that to an extent by agreeing to work with National on confidence, supply and certain (very prominent) portfolios, and the tradeoff has been policy influence. I watch with interest to see how they will negotiate these tricky waters.

    It seems to me that a lot of the swiping from some people on the Left towards the Maori Party is quite patronising. It’s got more to do with trying to tell Maori what’s good for them than wanting better outcomes for Maori.

    I agree entirely.

    L

  16. Lew on January 28th, 2009 at 09:58

    Anita: Seems I missed this comment :)

    Part of what particularly interests me about this is my hunch that the Māori Party understand just how big the cultural gulf between them and National is (surrounded by a dominant Pakeha culture how could they miss it?) but that National may not have really understood it yet.

    I am certain the māori party understand with breadth of the gulf – their founding purpose and greatest strategic challenge is to normalise māori political discourse, which relies on challenging the dominant political discourses represented by the Nats and Labour (and others, to a lesser degree). I think National realise how big the gap has been and are pinning their hopes on the power of compromise and goodwill [heh] closing the gap. There remains a slightly cynical part of me which thinks National realise how big it is, but hope to marginalise it by sheer political muscle. I think that would be a grave error, but I also don’t think the Key government will be that stupid.

    The māori party is to an extent a wild card because they can’t reliably be pegged on the left-right ideological spectrum – and because they operate at least partially from within a different political paradigm to other parties, their definitions and responses to policy suggestions are often quite surprising. Sometimes simplistic, but their point of difference is a new perspective, and they sure are that.

    L

  17. Anita on January 28th, 2009 at 18:20

    Lew writes,

    I think National realise how big the gap has been and are pinning their hopes on the power of compromise and goodwill [heh] closing the gap.

    I reckon National know how big the gap is/has been, but they don’t understand what it is. I imagine that they tend to think of the gap through a class/resource based lens, when the gap is actually an identity based gap.

  18. Lew on January 28th, 2009 at 19:20

    Anita: Seems likely as well. That’s certainly evident with the Marxist wing of the Labour/Green movements classifying people in terms of class status and on that basis saying foolish things along the lines of `you don’t know what’s good for you!’

    TBH I initially wondered if that was where you were headed with this post, as some folks have spent a bit of time talking about the new class of Māori Business Elites. Happy to see it ain’t so.

    L

  19. Anita on January 28th, 2009 at 20:03

    Lew writes,

    Anita: Seems likely as well. That’s certainly evident with the Marxist wing of the Labour/Green movements classifying people in terms of class status and on that basis saying foolish things along the lines of `you don’t know what’s good for you!’

    Last year I read quite a lot about the division between class and identity politics on left during the 1990s. It struck me at the time how very different the viewpoints are, and how deeply incompatible. Despite understanding the two models I find it really hard to see the same situation through both lenses, which is what I think the role of the Māori electorate and the Māori Party requires.

    What fascinated me about the article by Anae Arthur Anae was exactly that tension. As a Pacific Island candidate he expected identity politics to bring him the PI vote, when instead they voted (to his view) along their traditional class line. Once he became an MP he continued to work along identity lines working with PI communities throughout the country rather than with traditional National voting communities. While the political reality is clear to me, the conflict between the two models is huge.

    I’m also bemused that class is so clearly not identity in the same way as ethnicity, gender, sexuality orientation and so on. But that’s the ramble of another day :)

    TBH I initially wondered if that was where you were headed with this post, as some folks have spent a bit of time talking about the new class of Māori Business Elites. Happy to see it ain’t so.

    While I think that is interesting – traditional analysis has treated Māori as if class and identity politics were the same thing, and it never was, but we don’t seem to have seen that until Māori started succeeding in new business – it’s not what I was trying to talk about :)

    If we take a class based analysis (which the “National and the Māori Party are both elite actors so it will all be ok” requires) we forget that Māori elite and Pakeha elite are divided by culture. I think that divide is significant and overlooked because we have always analysed Labour/National in class terms.

    Finally it makes me wonder about where the Greens fit in, and why we don’t struggle to fit them into our political analysis.

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