From whatever way you look at the deal between National and the Maori Party it’s a hopeless, cringe-inducing arrangement and a disaster for most Maori. How could they have reached such a lame-duck agreement?
Significant progress for Maori is dead in the water once more. Compare it with the deal signed between National and Act. Like the Maori Party agreement there are two MPs who become ministers outside cabinet in return for support on confidence and supply. However the ACT agreement has several policy concessions and specific mechanisms to set in motion policy development for further concessions down the line. The Maori Party deal has none of this. There are no policy concessions but simply agreements to review the foreshore and seabed legislation and the future of the Maori seats. What’s worse is that neither of these are bread and butter issues for Maori families involved in the day to day struggle to make ends meet.
The Maori Party say National did not have to do a deal with them and so anything they got is better than nothing. Hone Harawira says they were offered more in three days by National than they were offered over three years by Labour. That might be true but it misses the point. Even if they decided to go with National they were in a stronger negotiating position than Act because Act had nowhere else to go. It had no option but a coalition deal with National. Where are the policy concessions the Maori Party could have extracted?
National is the big winner from the deal. It gains 70 votes for confidence and supply and goes into the next election with greater coalition options. Most importantly however it gives National political cover as it moves to implement what will be deeply unpopular policies as the global financial crisis hits the real economy hard in the next year. As I’ve said before it won’t be the global bankers and currency traders, of which John Key is a card-carrying member, who pay the price for their greed and stupidity. Instead it will be Maori who disproportionately suffer the greatest. And when the inevitable motions of no confidence in the government are tabled in parliament it will be the Maori Party MPs who are wheeled out to defend the degradation of Maori families and communities by unemployment.
In all the self-justifying statements made last week to defend dealing with National there was only one I saw which made any real sense. It came from Syd Keepa of the Maori runanga within the trade union movement. Syd said he could see value in the Maori Party doing a deal with National if it meant the extreme right wing of National and Act would be kept in check. From the experiences of the 1990s it was a well-made observation but in this context it is somewhat misplaced because John Key’s main objective will be to contain Act if he is to have any hope of being re-elected in 2011. The process we observed last week is what is often described as “elite-pacting” whereby the leadership of a dominant political grouping, National in this case, woos and seduces the leadership of a potentially strong opponent. Tariana Turia’s comment that John Key seems a nice man sums it up. In this deal National gained a great deal but gave up nothing of significance. The Maori Party gained nothing of importance but has been neutralised in the process.
The world is full of examples where grassroots movements are undermined and derailed by co-opting the leadership. The US government for example uses a mixture of assassination and co-option while the corporate sector internationally feted the leadership of the South Africa’s ANC before it came to power and through the process successfully reversed the ANC’s economic policies. The principles of the Freedom Charter were abandoned and free-market policies drove the post-apartheid economy much to the delight and relief of the wealthy. Fourteen years on and the majority of black South Africans are worse off than ever.
The Maori Party are right to be scathing of Labour’s treatment of Maori and Maori issues. Despite nine years of strong economic growth and huge government surpluses Labour left low-income families to struggle and as Tariana Turia said just last week, 27% of Maori children still grow up in poverty. Labour has no solution but even a person with the shortest memory would know the Maori Party should be even more scathing of National. With their coalition agreement with National the Maori Party has blown it. In doing so they have in a single week moved from aspirational movement to co-opted doormat.