The Māori Party attracts considerable criticism from across the political spectrum. They are ‘separatists’ or ‘brown troughers’ to the Right and ‘irrelevant sell outs’ to much of the Left. There is no expectation that the Māori Party would be immune from criticism, and although I firmly believe democracy requires accountability that is often achieved through constructive criticism, sometimes criticism cannot be characterised as constructive on any account.
However, Morgan Godfery wrote an interesting – constructive piece entitled Politics Beyond the Veil. It traces the Māori Party from what he sees it as growing out of – the Māori renaissance i.e. a movement strategy, to what he believes it has become – an institutional strategy. But while it is constructive, I’m not persuaded that the Māori Party are engaging in what he has phrased ‘the politics of integration’ and this post sets out an alternative conception – the ‘politics of mutual co-operation’.
Morgan writes that ‘politics beyond the veil is where the political class rule the void’.
I don’t disagree with that argument in principle. I do disagree with the way it’s unpacked to dismiss the Māori Party (referring to Morgan’s concluding remarks ‘do we even need them?’) but absent a critique of the architects of political class rule in Aotearoa New Zealand, i.e. the National and Labour parties. It’s worth reminding readers that the political class does not simply encompass Tories and right-wing political parties (I’m not suggesting that this is what Morgan implies, I note it here simply for clarity). The political class includes every party and their associative lobby groups with the capacity to influence how society is organised and how resources are distributed, irrespective of the interests of the groups they oppose or with whom they have no representational interest.
My discomfort with Morgan’s remarks on the political class and the Māori Party is that in crafting his argument he appears to cautiously avoid discussing the wider political class participants, particularly Māori MP’s that operate within Pakeha dominated parties that preference State intervention.
As mentioned above, Morgan argues that the Māori Party are engaging in the politics of integration. I appreciate his reasoning and I admit to having previously held that same position. Driving the idea of integration is the ‘sitting at the table’ rhetoric adopted and used unwaveringly by Māori Party MP’s, which has in effect created the conditions that have enabled mis-characterisations of the Māori Party position to prevail.
The strategy may have been sufficient as a response to criticism during their first term (even then it is still questionable) but as an ongoing response Morgan is correct in his implication that it doesn’t reveal anything meaningful about the direction of the Party.
However, his claim that being at the table is both the means and the ends envisioned by the Māori Party is unfounded given the explicit statements to contrary provided by the party. The Whanau Ora policy framework is committed to seeing Māori as decision makers in their own right and as Tariana Turia opines the Māori Party objective is ‘to get the government and all future government out of Māori lives as soon as can be managed’. Therefore, rather than engaging in the politics of integration I think a more accurate characterisation is that the Māori Party are engaging in the politics of mutual co-operation.
Integration implies the incorporation of Māori institutions into the apparatus of the State. In this sense, the State either retains or increases its control over Māori affairs thereby determining how Māori communities and institutions are organised and resources distributed in that respect.
Mutual co-operation on the other hand, implies incentives to co-operate where gains to the negotiating groups are mutually satisfactory i.e. where Māori can achieve control over their communities and institutions and determine for themselves how resources are distributed.
On the basis of the Māori Party policy framework, mutual co-operation seems the more likely scenario. The Māori Party are incentivised, by the rational self-interest of the party i.e. to further the aspirations of Māori, to engage in mutually co-operative arrangements. The reciprocal nature of this relationship ensures the other party (parties) attract reputational advantages that can work to increase their popularity because of the mutual toleration inherent in co-operative relationships.
Moreover, given mutual co-operation is a tool of our tūpuna engaged to negotiate rules and resolve disputes within and between whānau, hapu and iwi this is more consistent with the policy framework pursued by the Māori Party than the politics of integration suggested by Morgan, which in my view better characterises Māori institutions within parties that preference the State apparatus over Māori rights and aspirations.
While some critiques like that of Morgan’s are constructive and credible analyses, there is more often than not a distasteful dialogue that emanates from across the political spectrum in respect of the Māori Party. So in contrast to Morgan, who quite validly concludes by asking whether or not we need the Māori Party, I invite you to consider the following quote:
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect”
– Mark Twain