Monday, June 20, 2016

Hone Harawira's Attempted Re-Entry: Is It Credible? And What Does It Mean For The Left In 2017

Back when Winston was attempting to re-enter Parliament during the period running from 2009-2011, his anthem might very well have been drawn from the lines of LL Cool J - "Don't call it a comeback ... I been here for years!"

This is because Winston is, to be frank, a Parliamentary institution and almost as much an enduring part of our political landscape as MMP or squabbles over Treaty rights (both of which he thrives on).

Hone Harawira, however, is very much more ephemeral - and despite an impressive contribution to the previous Parliamentary term in the form of the Feed The Kids bill, is not nearly so integral to our nation's politics.

Still, if he manages to march back to Parliament at the next Election, he will have accomplished a rare feat - joining Winston in that unique winner's circle of hell of leading a party that's been turfed out and then returned in triumph three years later.

Such a feat, while not without a singular precedent, would be extraordinary - particularly considering the decidedly uphill battle which Harawira will face against a rampant Kelvin Davis without the previous benefits of incumbency which he enjoyed last time. But if successful, MANA could very well hold the keys to reshaping our political future.

So the serious questions for the commentariat and uber-hacks among us (I'm too cynical to presume this is still ordinary water-cooler conversation in the average workplace well outside of an election year) are twofold:

First, *can* Harawira pull it off; and second ... what are the likely effects going to be if he does, in fact, win Te Tai Tokerau once again.

The answers - particularly to the second question - may be surprising.

As applies the former question, it is widely regarded that Harawira will not have an easy time winning back his old electorate. Even though there was a comparatively wafer-thin margin of 743 votes between Davis and Harawira last time around, there is no real reason to believe that this gap will have tightened in the intervening three years. Sure, Harawira no longer has the rather prominent German millstone-cum-albatross about his neck to act as a dissuader to potential voters. Winston won't be able to attempt to influence people to strategically vote for Davis by crowing about "Mana-Deutschland" this time around.

But at the same time, Davis remains one of Labour's most popular, prominent and well-regarded MPs. He's landed key hits on the reviled Judith Collins in the embattled Corrections portfolio over this Parliamentary Term (for which he's received much positive media coverage), is well regarded within his Electorate, and has even been tipped by some to be on-course as a future Leader of the Labour Party and potentially our first Maori Prime Minister.

It is also worth noting that Davis is a skilled campaigner, astutely aware of Harawira's weaknesses and blindspots, who's consistently increased his results against Harawira at each of the last three electoral contests in the seat. In the 2011 Te Tai Tokerau By-Election, it was 6065 to 4948 in Harawira's favour (49%-40% - a 9% margin). In the 2011 General Election contest, 8121 to 6956, again in Harawira's favour (43%-37% - a 6% margin). Most recently, in 2014, it was 9712 to 8969 in favour of Davis (44%-41% - a 3% margin). (And this despite a seeming nationwide swing against the Labour Party in general, marking Te Tai Tokerau as one of Labour's few gains)

Phrased this way, the capture of Triple-T by Davis seems less like the immaculately miraculous result of a confederation of bad circumstances bedeviling Harawira in a single poor year ... and much more like the gradual unfolding of ongoing hard work, energy and effort which, while not inevitable in its outcome, has of late given rise to an eventual flowering and fruiting.

In short, to this point Harawira has been almost standing still in electoral terms, while Davis has been running ever faster.

Now that the shoe is most decidedly 'on the other foot' as applies incumbency, it will be increasingly difficult for Harawira to make up the pace, while Davis will have an easier time continually advancing.

Is it an impossible dream, though? I wouldn't necessarily say so. It is, however, a bit of a long shot. But in politics, one in a hundred outcomes appear to happen somewhere slightly greater than fifty percent of the time.

However, provided we're talking vaguely unrealistic hypothetical scenarios ... there's also a rather slight chance that Annette Sykes takes Waiariki off Te Ururoa Flavell and secures MANA's resurrection that way. The numbers don't especially appear to support such a contention (Sykes trailed 355 votes behind Labour's candidate there, and 4244 votes behind Flavell), but I've seen the claim made often enough that such a scenario is possible for it to be worth addressing here.

And now that we've got the slightly boring number-deluge out of the way ... let's get on to the fun stuff:

Prognostications and Fantasy Coalition Football.

The impacts of a prospective MANA re-entry into Parliament can be handily divided into two groups. First, how it will change the makeup of Parliament - and second, whether this makes it easier for one 'side' or the other to form a Government.

The answer for the former is that while on the face of it taking a seat from Labour might not affect the overall Left-Right balance in Parliament (and therefore be somewhat pointless for people seeking to change the government), it's yet to be seen how such an alteration would affect the balance of proportionalities which determine List Seat allocation. MANA might conceivably wind up reducing the number of National List MPs by anywhere from zero to one dependent upon how things go for the other parties.

But, more interestingly, MANA might wind up altering the balance of power further by bringing along their very own List MP, Maori Party style. This is because at the last Election, MANA (admittedly in confederation with The Internet Party) wound up scoring a relatively impressive 1.4% of the vote. Now it's possible that the 0.3% of the vote they gained over their 2011 result might very well fade back into the more radically left portions of Labour, The Greens and New Zealand First - thus eliminating MANA's shot at a List MP. But then again, with a strong Party Vote message in a number of electorates, and enough compelling evidence that they're ready to be a strident voice in Opposition or ardent left wing 'Voice of [a certain rather small but pert portion of] The People" ... it's certainly not entirely inconceivable that they hold a decent proportion of this vote and thus net themselves a Caucus slightly larger than the carrying capacity of the average phone booth.

Now where it starts to get messy is when it comes to Government Formation.

To coagulate a non-National Government, the Vaguely Left need to somehow cobble together a bare majority of MPs prepared to support a Labour-led Government on Confidence & Supply.

At the moment, a Labour-Greens-NZ First accommodation would be just about on the cusp of victory. Presuming, of course, that Winston doesn't decide to withhold his support.

A MANA victory in Te Tai Tokerau considerably complicates things. Apart from reducing Labour's stock of electorate seats by one, it's also possible that the 'displacement' of one fewer list seat which would result from MANA's entry into Parliament could reduce the Labour/Greens/NZF muster even further itself.

Some might say that this is not necessarily a problem, as it would therefore simply require four parties rather than three to hammer out a deal in the best interests of the country in order to constitute an alternative government.

Except given Winston is already making irascible noises about refusing to tete-a-te with "separatists" when it comes to "racial politics" ... and MANA's fairly overt status in the eyes of many as a Maori Nationalist movement ... it's not hard to see how this might potentially form a problem rather than a government for the Left come 2017.

As pointed out by an astute colleague, one way around this potential nightmare scenario is if a post-electoral accommodation is reached wherein each of MANA and The Maori Party agree to *abstain* on Confidence & Supply for a Labour/Greens/NZF Government in exchange for concessions. This is exactly how Labour managed to maintain a hold on power in 2005 (thanks to The Greens biting the bullet and demonstrating principles bigger than egos); and would allow certain individuals to successfully claim they were not, in fact, in government with "separatists", while still effectively being supported into government by them.

But this is nevertheless a somewhat fraught potential arrangement, and would have a number of obvious potential problems in application. What sorts of policy concessions would be necessary to lure the MANA and/or Maori Parties to effectively deliberately lock themselves out of Government ... which would simultaneously be amenable enough to Winston for him to actually consider implementing. Certainly, demands from NZ First for something like Whanau Ora to be given the chop would cause an irrevocable sticking point with at least one of these potential not-support parties.

All things considered, it's a bit of a headache all around.

Now, I wouldn't go so far as another of my more learned and esteemed associates as to claim that "a vote for Hone is a vote for National", because we don't yet know if that will be true. And in any case, I generally quite like the idea of people voting for parties they genuinely believe in rather than holding their nose and doing skulldugerous electoral calculations in the booth (unless you're in Epsom - in which case you must ALWAYS vote Paul Goldsmith! ... or if you're one of the somewhere in the region of 33% of NZ First voters who are strategic Labourites. You guys keep doing what you're doing as well, please!).

But it does seem fairly inarguable that the prospects (however realistic or otherwise) of MANA re-entering Parliament at the next Election raise more questions than answers when it comes to articulating the successful future of progressive governance come 2017.

Not least of which is whether Hone can actually pull off a comeback in the first place.

And what role, if any, he might play in, around, or in support of Government at that time.

[Thanks to Shannon & Alex for the erudite observations]

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