Hone Harawira is back in parliament, but his rebirth looks to spell the end for the Maori Party's dream of a united Maori voice. For all the talk of conciliation, the more likely outcome is a battle to the death
So, Hone Harawira is back in parliament and John Key says it was all a waste of serious money because we're merely back where we started. Well, it was an unnecessary waste of money so close to an election, but we're certainly not back where we started. The past few weeks in Te Tai Tokerau have changed the political scene in several ways.
A more disciplined Harawira has emerged from the process, surrounded by better political advisers than the Maori Party seems to have these days. Matt McCarten, Willie Jackson and John Tamihere may be an acquired taste for sum, but their political nous is immense and they've started to mould Harawira into something of a politician.
My gut feeling is, however, that they will eventually hit a brick wall. Harawira has charm, intelligence and the ability to speak in a way that people want to hear, even if only to argue with him. He has pulling power. But he's a gun without a sight, a car without a steering wheel. Or, at least, with a steering wheel that can't resist veering off down side tracks, rather than sticking to the highways.
Some on the left see Harawira as the great brown hope; I think they'll wind up with little more than frustration and disillusion.
Frankly, he's likely bitten off more than he can chew with a new party; the glimpses I've seen behind the scenes of his campaign have shown chaos and poor decision-making. Past experience suggests he'll struggle to pull it all together inside five months, in order to win over the 30-40,000 voters he needs if he wants two or three Mana MPs beside in the House after this year's election, as he's consistently predicted.
Mana will target the party vote, as everyone knows. You can never say never with the right candidate, but I can't imagine anyone who could win a seat for Mana. Even Willie Jackson knows it, rejecting the invitation to stand in Tamaki Makaurau.
So there's talk that the Maori Party could go fishing for the seats, while Mana trawls up the list votes. Strategically it makes some sense. Harawira has talked about eight Maori MPs working together as 'Mana Maori'. But I can't see it. Harawira said on Q+A today that Dr Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia had "sold out". That's insulting language, and it's hardly the first time.
As Sandra Lee said on the panel, it's hard to envisage any "peace, love and brotherhood". Even the discreet Mark Solomon of Ngau Tahu sighed and predicted "more fighting". Already the Maori Party have indicated they won't stand aside in Te Tai Tokerau come November, guaranteeing more stoushes with Harawira.
Behind the scenes there have been demands that so-and-so won't sit with someone else, that Mr X would never be interviewed with Mr Y etc. This is personal and historic and tribal and not easily forgotten.
Turia, ultimately, would have to humbly hold out the olive branch to Harawira, and when have we ever seen anything in her character to suggest that she'd be inclined to such a path?
The Maori Party, with its [flawed] conviction that it can represent a single Maori voice, will be hoping for Mana's implosion and will do all it can to aid and abet that.
However this campaign has damaged the Maori Party severely. Te Tai Tokerau is unique, so I'm wary of the assumptions that it is an indicator for the other Maori electorates. From Hone Heke to Matiu Rata, the north has always had a soft spot for rebels.
Pita Sharples is still expected to retain Tamaki Makaurau despite a strong challenge from Shane Jones. Turia will remain in e Tai Hauarau. And Te Ururoa Flavell is still favoured in Waiariki by all accounts (thought I haven't looked myself).
But this win, I suspect, was the final nail for Rahui Katene in Te Tai Tonga. Such a massive swing against the Maori Party must give Labour a scent of blood, another significant change regardless of Key's claim. Labour was slow to start in Tai Tokerau because Phil Goff was nervous of the pakeha backlash at the cost of the by-election, and that cost Kelvin Davis valuable time. But Labour must have a sense now that the Maori seats are recoverable and it's worth spending some money on them, if indeed they have any money to spend.
This is rare good news for Labour and its leaders will be hoping to build some momentum, at least within the party, off the back of this result.
At best, the Maori Party is likely to be reduced to a three seat part after November, with two of its three MPs on the verge of retirement. Yes, this has been a terrible year for that party.
The sad truth is that ethnicity is not enough to hold a party together – the political divide is too wide. But ethnicity is enough to tie the fate of these two parties together in a kind of death clinch.
And so Mana begins, with celebration and song, conviction and a seat in parliament for a few weeks, at least. But birth and death go hand in hand. In the sweep of history my guess is that Mana's story will be less that of a new movement that changed this country, and more a chapter in the story of the failed experiment that was the Maori Party.
I write this with not a little sorrow, not least for Maori voters, but for me the most likely outcome is that Mana and Maori drag each other down.