Primary thoughts on Te Mana

datePosted on 06:33, May 25th, 2011 by Lew

My thoughts on Te Mana aren’t very mature — they are very mixed, and quite primary, and I’m afraid I’m not very well informed. I’ve also been insanely busy the past few months — and especially the past month, and have had little time to focus on it. But last week I received a request by email from a regular KP commenter to post my thoughts on Te Mana, and what follows is a somewhat expanded edit of the reply I sent to him.

The initial comments suggested concern that Te Mana might be “opportunistically” taken over by the Pākehā “far left”, and I do agree that Te Mana needs to be Māori-led, and its functions need to be safeguarded against hijack by the usual bandwagon-jumpers — among whom I include folk like John Minto, Socialist Aotearoa and so on. The māori party, I think it’s now pretty clear, has been significantly colonised by Pākehā interests on the right, and if Te Mana is to prove any more robust, it must insure itself against the same happening from the other side. As a minor party, above all it needs to have focus and discipline, and too many chiefs (as it were) will lead to factionalisation, and that’s to everyone’s detriment. I’m not opposed to diversity within a movement, but I am against the leaders of one noisy faction taking over a movement for their own ends. That’s the major risk I see from people like John Minto and the principals of Socialist Aotearoa taking a prominent role: their vision isn’t the same as Hone’s, and although I expect they understand that, I’m certain the rank and file they command do not. Moreover, I think they’re a liability — even more than Hone is a liability, if possible — because they will turn off Māori as well as non-socialist Pākehā. That’s as far as my reasoned thoughts on the party’s internal dynamics go, and I welcome comment from anyone better informed on this topic than I am.

As far as where the party sits within NZ’s wider political context I think I have a better handle on things. The conventional wisdom about ACT and Te Mana engaging in a bit of mutual base-engagement is pretty good, but still a sideshow. The main event is (as ever) between National and Labour, and Te Mana’s relevance here rests on four main points.

First, Te Mana, with Hone likely to win Te Tai Tokerau, should be self-sustaining, at least for now. It needs to stand tall in the by-election to prove to people that they should support it in the general election. As far as Te Mana’s brand goes, the establishment Left distancing themselves is not really a bad thing (much more on this later). Te Mana needs to attract disenchanted māori party voters, and those who can’t be bothered voting for those parties. Its constituency needs to be positive-sum to as great an extent as possible, because the existing electoral offerings are broadly zero-sum.

Second, this is the establishment Left’s opportunity to say “for the past decade and a bit, National have been scaremongering about how we’re loony fringe extremists; socialists, communists, environmentalist haters of humanity, run by anti-family lesbians and all that — now Aotearoa gets to see what a real radical left party looks like.” The truth is that the Greens are perfectly moderate and gentle, and Labour are so ferociously orthodox they pose no meaningful threat to the established order of things, and Te Mana gives them a chance to illustrate that.

Third, and further to the second point, Te Mana provides Labour a crucial opportunity to differentiate from National. While historically the right has taken great glee in painting the Greens as the left’s equivalent of ACT, this is bogus. ACT is a genuine extremist party, espousing positions abhorrent even to many right-wingers, whose electoral existence in New Zealand relies upon them gaming the MMP threshold exemption because for most of the past decade they have been unable to persuade even one in 20 voters to support them. The Greens, on the other hand, represent a global movement whose positions and support are becoming more, not less, mainstream, and while not exactly rocketing skyward, their support remains strong and is steadily climbing. As much as the right wishes to claim the Greens are ACT’s left-wing equivalent, it is Te Mana who more appropriately fills that role. John Key was swift to label ACT and Don Brash ‘extremist’. He’s right, but he’s also protecting National’s voter base. This was tactically smart but strategically foolish, because Labour now get to label Te Mana as ‘extremist’ (‘radical’ is more correct, but that’s a technicality) and then say “National are working with the guy they admit is an extremist — we’re ruling out working with the extremist Mana Party. We’ve been telling you this whole term that John Key is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and now he’s proven it.” They’ve done the first bit and I can only hope they have a plan to do the second bit, reclaiming the boring harmless sensible moderate ground they so richly deserve to hold.

Fourth (this wasn’t included in the email but is something I’ve argued elsewhere): while many people have pointed out that the by-election will cost money, which the three parties contesting it don’t have much of, by the same token it gives those parties an opportunity to go into the general election with a bit of momentum. It will give them a fair bit of media exposure (not all of which will be favourable), an opportunity to field-test their lines and positions. Most importantly, it will give the people involved — the candidates themselves, and the campaign managers and organisers and doorknockers and drivers and ringawera — valuable frontline experience. Falling into a rugby analogy: it gives the parties a chance to build match-fitness for the main event which follows.

Finally, I think the best outcome for both Labour and Te Mana here is the one Morgan has persuasively argued is most likely — for Hone Harawira to beat Kelvin Davis by a slim margin. Davis is a strong MP, if inexperienced, and although marginally placed at 33 on the list, should get in at the general election if Labour can at least maintain their polling. A tight contest will light a fire under both parties, which is valuable in and of itself. Hone Harawira has remained mostly true to his principles, undoubtedly represents a constituency and thus possesses at least a moral mandate to represent those who vote for him; Davis, also, but those principles are also represented by the Labour party. Hone would (on present polling of about 3%) bring in a couple of others, who would be in a position to advocate radical positions and apply pressure to the māori, Labour and Green parties while permitting Labour and Green to solidify their claim to the middle-ground, and would give the parties of the left an opportunity to feel each other out and reposition. More to the point, in terms of November 27 realpolitik, the lesson of NZ First in 2008 should be clear: if Hone doesn’t win his electorate and Te Mana doesn’t pass 5%, those votes are wasted, and National will be the main beneficiary. Labour’s future — in 2012 as it was in the past — is not to go it alone as the all-singing, all-dancing united left party, but at the core of a wider movement including the diverse and often misguided voices which characterise the wider left. Those horses (as has been exhaustively demonstrated by the NewLabour, Alliance and Progressive parties) cannot be bound by the same rope, and sometimes must be given their head.

L

16 Responses to “Primary thoughts on Te Mana”

  1. Hugh on May 25th, 2011 at 14:43

    Lew, I know you probably only intended this as an aside, but I found this comment rather surprising:

    The māori party, I think it’s now pretty clear, has been significantly colonised by Pākehā interests on the right

    Is it clear? What exactly are you referring to? Its coalition agreement with National, or something else?

    Also I think your thinking’s a bit confused. Firstly you say that you hope that the Mana Party won’t become a vehicle for the pakeha far left, but then your later analysis about “extreme” parties seems to imply that you think it most likely will and this isn’t a bad thing. If the Mana Party does limit itself to indigenist issues then surely it will be, like the Greens, the representative of a ‘a global movement whose positions and support are becoming more, not less, mainstream’, that is the indigenous rights movement, and thus won’t be an extremist party, but a centrist party like the Greens.

  2. TBD on May 25th, 2011 at 15:37

    Lew, Good to hear you thoughts on this. Cheers.

  3. Lew on May 25th, 2011 at 19:47

    Hugh, it was an aside, but nevertheless: it’s not the fact of the coalition agreement with National that suggests colonisation, but the result of it. As you know, I’ve been (and still am) a defender of the māori party’s decision to enter government; but to a large extent I believe they are now doing the National party’s work for them, rather than doing their own work.

    I don’t really see the inconsistency you refer to. I think that makes sense if you see any Pākehā-originated ideological positioning as a sort of ideological selling-out, but I don’t accept that line of reasoning. I don’t accept that the interests of Māori are inherently wedded to those of the proletariat, and therefore can only be served by a Marxist agenda, but I do accept that there are Marxist aspects which have been adopted into the radical (as I say, extremist is the wrong word) Māori political discourse to which Te Mana is appealing.

    My point really is that ‘Māori’ is a pretty broad political church; broader than the māori party or the Labour loyalists have conceived it, and broader than the insistence that Te Mana ‘limit itself to indigenist issues’. But not so broad as to be interchangeable with the GPJA or SA agendas, and for that reason, if it is to retain its claim to being an authentic indigenist alternative to the māori party, Te Mana needs to remain autonomous from those agendas; or at least, to tightly control the extent to which those agendas are adopted.

    I see where you’re headed with the final argument, and it’s an interesting question, but I’m inclined to be more cautious about equating indigenism and environmentalism (or, indeed, about labelling either as ‘centrist’ or implying they’re ideologically neutral).

    L

  4. Pablo on May 25th, 2011 at 21:13

    Lew:

    I defer to your better knowledge of the subject and do not want to rehash old arguments, but I think that the addition of the activist (as opposed to radical or militant), class-based Left to Hone’s form of identity politics is a good thing. Labour has sold out the working class with its embrace of market prescriptions; the Maori Party has sold out its non-elite constituents in order to reap the spoils of power-sharing; and the Greens do not focus as a priority on non-bread and butter issues that are of immediate concern to non-elite Maori. People like John Minto and entities like UNITE have been staunch in their defense of (mostly brown) worker’s rights and material welfare, so bringing them into the fold is a way of reaffirming how the intersection of class and ethnicity works against Maori and Pacifikans.

    Hone’s approach will alienate many Pakeha working class voters, but if it is moderated by an overt working class orientation that is in stark contradistinction to the other supposed defenders of the “Left,” then perhaps Mana can get enough cross-over, non-Maori votes to make the threshold or at least vote him in. Those votes can come from Labour, the Greens, the Maori Party and even from the splintered remnants of the Alliance, but they key point is to marry the concepts of identity and class in a way that reflects–and resists–the harsh reality of a country that has become, regardless of non-elite consequence,the lab rat for market ideologues.

  5. Lew on May 25th, 2011 at 21:29

    Pablo, I actually agree with this, in particularly the last sentence — but my argument, and I guess I’ve not made it very clearly, is more that Te Mana cannot simply become a vehicle for UNITE/GPJA/SA’s parliamentary ambitions. It must retain its own character, and its own direction; informed, but not dictated by those existing agendas.

    L

  6. Pablo on May 25th, 2011 at 21:34

    Lew:

    On that much we agree–BROWN/red rather than RED/brown. I suggest that, in spite of the “red neck/blue collar” claims, more than a few Pakeha working class voters can live comfortably with that (to say nothing of some Left intellectuals).

  7. Lew on May 25th, 2011 at 21:49

    I agree many of them can live with it. It’s just some of their self-anointed leaders I’m not sure about.

    L

  8. Phil Sage on May 25th, 2011 at 22:14

    How long will people continue to believe that a discredited ideology has any practical application in modern society. The experiments failed, they are contrary to human nature.

  9. Hugh on May 26th, 2011 at 12:03

    As you know, I’ve been (and still am) a defender of the māori party’s decision to enter government; but to a large extent I believe they are now doing the National party’s work for them, rather than doing their own work.

    Fair enough, but I seem to remember back in 2008 when they were first going into government you explained, multiple times, to me and others, that their success or failure could only legitimately be judged by Maori, not Pakeha.

    The extent to which Hone and Minto and his chums need to compromise may well end up destroying Mana. This is exactly what ruined the Alliance – the conflict between a prominent leader and a larger activist base, each feeling they are the true heart and driver of the party. Pablo and Lew, I expect your agreement is actually covering a wide rift – it is easy to agree that their needs to be a “balance” between the indigenist and ethnically-neutral socialist elements of the party, but the disagreement will be over what exactly that balance entails.

    Personally, having been driven away from Labour, the Alliance and the Greens throughout my voting life, I’d begun to consider giving my vote to the Mana Party, but I don’t think I would want to give it to the Party that Lew is describing, where the assertion of pro-working class politics is secondary to the need for the party to have “focus” and “discipline”. We’ve been there before, with Anderton, and it wasn’t pretty.

  10. Lew on May 26th, 2011 at 12:37

    I think that’s all pretty fair enough, Hugh. No doubt we all do disagree on the ‘balance’, and that’s as should be. My comments on judging the māori party remain as true (or false, depending on your position) now as they were then, and my own views notwithstanding the party’s achievements and value will ultimately be judged by Māori voting for it, or not, in the Māori electorates.

    Your comments about an ‘activist base’ being driven away by a strong leader who is at odds with the party’s rank-and-file support are valid enough, but if the Pākehā Marxist radical base is as strong as all that, why would they need to piggyback on a Māori-based tino rangatiratanga-focused party? I think you overestimate the strength of the one and underestimate the strength of the other. But we will see, I suppose, and however it breaks down it’ll be instructive.

    L

  11. Hugh on May 26th, 2011 at 14:54

    Your statement seemed a lot less tentative than I’d have expected given your position, which is why I felt it was worth picking up even though I recognised it was part of a preface. I’ve actually been kind of holding out for your assessment of the Maori Party based on the criteria you so clearly laid out. But as you say, ultimately voters are the only judges, so maybe I’ll have to wait till December. I certainly agree that based on polling and the existence of the Mana Party it’s not looking good for the Maori Party, and I have some thoughts myself on what they did wrong and why, but I’ll save them for later.

    I suppose I really meant “part of the activist base”, not “the activist base”, because you’re right, a majority of the party’s activists will be there because of loyalty to Hone or disdain for the Maori Party. But the opposite is true too; if the Minto-ites are being asked to join, they must be bringing something. They actually seem to have got a lot of policy wins – the party’s official policy launch seemed to be about 80% socialist and only 20% indigenous – but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Maori Party turns out to be one of those parties, like the Greens, who show one face in formal policy statements and another face in the public and parliamentary conduct of their leaders and spokespeople. Hone seems quite uninterested in talking about generic working class concerns, although part of that may be the fact that the media doesn’t seem to want to give him a platform to discuss them (whereas, as we’ve seen, they’re all over themselves to give him a platform to discuss cultural issues).

    I may be overestimating the strength of the hard left faction – I agree they don’t have the nouse to go it alone. But personally I am far more enthused about voting for them than I am about voting for Hone (not least because I get the impression he doesn’t actually want my vote, so it’d be churlish to give it to him).

  12. Tiger Mountain on May 26th, 2011 at 18:32

    Political characteristics of Te Mana so far that I see: It is a hybrid Māori nationalist left social democratic grouping akin to the Alliance but refreshingly with a dominant Māori focus. Plus there is real potential for an extra parliamentary ‘365 day’ activist network.

    An irony is for a genuine non parliamentary Mana Movement to arise, a parliamentary Te Mana seat really has to be gained in the first instance to somewhat opportunistically ride on the publicity, and to support all the associated activity of policy formation and regional structures. In TTT (Far North section thereof) there has been a high level of people and organisation just flipping over from MP to Mana. So the Hone loyalty factor is vital at this establishment stage, but in the long term any genuine movement has to have the capacity to operate regardless of leadership changes. Kelvin Davies is a respectable guy but out of the picture in this polititical fight, though not in votes perhaps, he is liked by conservative Maori and some pakeha tories too for sorting out what they saw as a ‘zoo’ school. Well a number of educationalists could do that, but in context he has supporters.

    The far left are generally highly critical of social democratic parties, some like the Workers Party seeing SD as a ‘main enemy’ almost akin to capitalism itself for the diversionary class collaborationist role they claim parties like Labour propagate. So I cannot see them putting their small resources long term into Te Mana, and some have said as much. Individuals from Unite and Socialist Aotearoa may well do so for a period however. Lefties while they can play an important role in a BROWN/red scenario as Pablo aptly put it, will have to be circumspect while it all shakes out.

    As to those high profile people that various kiwis love to hate–Minto, Bradford (pretty quiet on Mana actually), Sykes etc. This is a niche party for those that like ‘sticking it to the man’ not for cardigan wearing ‘blue greens’ or others. Most of ’em have a decades long opposition to neo liberalism and sure know what they are talking about. It is like an ’81 Tour reunion for those of us of a certain age, but once the nostalgia fest is over what can we offer in 2011, and how can young people be re-engaged actively in such political affairs?

    Minto is not every ones cup of, and I thought he lost the plot a bit with the South African immigrant campaign, but some of them have proven to be nasty customers indeed as evidenced with National Party selection processes. You will be waiting far longer for that lot than recalcitrant pakeha to acknowledge Tino Rangatiratanga.
    John Minto called it right all those years ago too regarding the PAC vs ANC argument. And while the ANC had the misfortune to assume office during peak neo liberalist times, anyone with half a political brain reading their freedom charter could see where it was all headed.

    The exciting thing is to see a Māori led-pakeha supported party appear. Typically any previous Māori parliamentary involvement was ultimately subordinated to pakeha or corporate needs. Te Mana has raised issues already the others ignore that directly confront the corporates. A lot of bloggers and msm’ers see the by-election as a mere numbers exercise re seats in the house which is pretty demeaning in this case for a whole bunch of only recently politically organised people (in a parliamentary party sense).

    As for Phil Sage’s absolutist expostulation, history is still being written actually. Peak oil is officially here now according to the energy industry itself so I would suggest unless new socialist projects can obtain wide support despite concerns about previous ones falling at the ‘hurdle of democracy’, then we can look forward to a nasty ‘Waterworld’ ‘BladeRunneresque’ futurist hell hole.

  13. mm on May 30th, 2011 at 04:17

    Good post Lew, but I note a couple of points:

    1) It is pretty harsh labelling John Minto a ‘band-wagon jumper’ and ‘taking a prominent role’ in Te Mana party. To the best of my knowledge, John has not joined any political party before, and he may not have joined Mana party yet (only media report was he was asking family about it).

    2) The left activist base in Mana is narrow, but deep (experienced, energetic, activists). Hone’s Maori nationalist base is broad, but shallow (lots turning out to vote at elections, but doing little between).

    The challenge for Hone is the same as it was for Tariana and Pita (at which Tariana & Pita failed) – to organise a party structure and core people who can keep a strong activist base involved in the party for 3 years, so they have a strong campaigning base next election, to build electoral success.

    And that’s before Hone even considers what ‘gains’ he has to win to retain voter support.

    For what it’s worth, I think the left activists were brought in to fulfil Matt McCarten’s desire for a left party, after Matt was asked to help Hone, who had stuffed his Maori Party coup.

    Recall Hone:
    - failed to push his concerns coherently inside the Maori Party (contrast with Sue B in Greens),
    - staged a very public ham-fisted coup attempt (even worse than Chris Carter’s),
    - then openly sabotaged reconciliation efforts (Tariana and Pita didn’t want the divisive distraction and resource sapping move of Hone leaving their party, and made real efforts to keep him),
    - then formed a party too late to get publicly funded TV and radio broadcast time (and is barred from privately funding this)
    - and launched a byelection to get party leader funding that isn’t financially worth the lost MP income during the byelection period, and distracts him from policy development and sorting a solid party structure.

    Sheesh! He may win Te Tai Tokerau, but that is it. And that’s before we even consider how socialist and Maori nationalist elements of Mana work together. Which is why this is a waste of time for Maori and socialists.

    Mad Marxist.

  14. Tiger Mountain on May 31st, 2011 at 14:13

    Early days Mad. Mana may fall at the first hurdle but there is definitely a political niche for it. Can Hone organise? He has done so already, politicising people that Labour and National ignored in the Far North for years apart from seeking their vote. MP members were regularly out and about publicly on various issues and actions etc between elections.

    For several decades a beneficiary/low paid constituency has built up in pockets across this country. Benefit rates were never restored from from the ’91 cuts, but middle class benefits-WFF were instituted. Corporate welfare is fine too-SCF. With John Keys announced major assault on the welfare state as it affects the low paid, some political force is required to unite all who can be united for a multi faceted fight back. What do you think all those folks in Spain and Greece are on the streets for?-an attack on their particular version of the welfare state in a high unemployment environment.

    If TTT can be won in June and November by Mana movement then some stabilisation will likely occur and the question of the different elements working together decided in practice. Various leftists predicted the Māori party would falter due to internal and external class contradictions, though it occurred sooner than perhaps anticipated by some.

    Mana thus far has an added focus, in addition to issues Māori and the potential to represent a wider marginalised population. Hardly a waste of time.

  15. Tiger Mountain on May 31st, 2011 at 16:57

    A brief ‘explanatory’ to my 14.13 comment. There is obviously a significant supra class element to Māori existence, culture and struggles. Once the current bourgeois parliament and economy is engaged with though welcome to the grinder.

  16. mm on June 5th, 2011 at 01:29

    I know Tiger, but…. the first polls are now out, and it does not look good. Mana party are polling at 0.4%, and while that may not affect Hone’s chance of winning Te Tai Tokerau, it does mean he won’t be bringing any other MPs in on the party vote. Which means he has 1 vote, the same as Anderton and Dunne, but without their malleability.

    Contrast Hone’s prickly nature with the amiable Greens, who get sidelined by Labour – safe in the knowledge the Greens would never abstain or vote against Labour on confidence and supply. There is no reason Hone would ever get more traction than the Greens, given his more demanding nature and further left party positions.

    I would love to be positive about Mana, but the evidence is already mounting that it is an irrelevance. Worse, it is distracting from the MMP defense campaign, and any campaign to improve MMP (by junking the 5% threshold for a start). Ironically, scrapping the 5% threshold would make it far easier for small parties like Mana to start and survive. Surely that should be the focus for we lefties short-term?

    Mad Marxist.

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