Sep 6, 2008

Maori In The Box Seat

The Hive has long admired the political management and positioning of the Maori Party. John Armstrong now sees the Party as occupying the box seat

Whatever your opinion of Rodney Hide, he is dead right about one thing. John Key's refusal to work with Winston Peters amounts to a seismic shift in the political landscape.
The ramifications of Key's decision are vast, not least in putting the Maori Party in the box seat after the election.


Now, following Key's decision, the Maori Party has prised the balance of power off Peters, who is now hog-tied to Labour.
That will see an accompanying intensifying of the pressure on co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples to declare their preference for post-election talks. They will not succumb. They are not beholden to the great mass of voters on the general roll.
Instead, post-election, they will hold a consultation exercise with the party's membership on how they should proceed in negotiations with other parties.
What is notable during the party's three years in Parliament is the lessening resistance to deal with National. But the Maori Party has not committed itself to talking first with the party that wins the most seats.
And just as National and the Maori Party have been building a relationship through meetings and dinners, so have the latter's relations with Labour improved considerably following the bust-up between Turia and Clark four years ago.
The odds, though, must favour National to make the running. The numbers in Parliament are more likely to fall its way. It will offer the Maori Party whatever it takes to get its hands on the keys to the Cabinet room.
It is not going to die in the ditch over its stated timetable for scrapping the Maori seats. It may well offer some concession on the Foreshore and Seabed Act.
The Maori Party has previously insisted the measure be repealed. But it appears repeal will not be a non-negotiable bottom-line for agreement.
Apart from that, the Maori Party can probably name its price.
As one senior National MP put it, when it comes to looking for partners in Government, the Maori Party is no longer the last cab off the rank - Clark's designation after the last election. The Maori Party now owns the rank.