A critical reflection from a Māori Party candidate and member perspective.
It looks messy. It looks disorganised. And it looks like a power grab from behind the gate. As the membership mentally prepared for the next phase of the rebuild following the announcement by Māori Party President Tuku Morgan that he would stand down from his role at the beginning of the Hui Taumata, disquiet apparently emerged in some quarters. Interests in the role of President were widely known among active members. So I have to disagree with Party Co-Leader Marama Fox, who reportedly told the NZH that ‘the membership asked him [Tuku] to stay on for the sake of continuity’. There was no vote. However, one might say process is a word more closely related to McDonalds meats than to what ultimately transpired at the Hui Taumata.
My criticism is not personal. I genuinely believe that for the party to rebuild, we need an Executive reset, not a rewind. This is a hard post for me to write. I am privileged to have had close working relationships with the Executive team prior to and during the election period. The dedication, hours, and heart they all committed and continue to commit to the kaupapa is incredibly admirable. I have a great deal of respect for all involved – at that level it is high pressure and involves navigating many complex relationships. However, until we accept that we are broken as a collective we will not progress. Fragmentation is rife with electorates throughout the country fighting their own internal battles. Unfortunately, the Party looks a lot like Labour looked in 2014 and in fact, up until Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern took the helm.
It’s worth noting here, that it would be naive to believe that the Party can duplicate Labour’s fortune and pull a personality out of a hat 8 weeks out from Election 2020 to deliver us a hyper-saviour moment gifting us re-entry into parliament. But in all fairness, it’s not all gloom. There is a mood for rebuilding and many hands on deck to do the mahi. But the darkness matters. Ignoring it risks retreating into a political fantasy that enables the timeless looping of strategic and tactical errors.
I arrived at the Hui Taumata with quiet excitement. That was short lived. Within the first hour it transpired that only the leadership were allowed to talk to media and attendees were not to livestream or post on social media. Our Facebook and Twitter accounts effectively lost their right to be social for the duration of the hui. I felt silenced and cut off from igniting friends and followers. Criticism and disagreement frowned upon as anti-party rhetoric or as an unconstructive barrier to progress. A suffocation one would expect in an autocratic society and not within an indigenous movement meant to carry our aspirations as an independent voice of our people.
Not everyone disagreed with the social media blackout. Some felt those who wanted to be involved ought to have made arrangements to be present. Others recognised that the registration fee was prohibitive for many whānau – particularly those required to travel from outside the region.
Creeping ageism and sexism were also sadly not off the agenda. It was ironic really. The number of disparaging references made about a supposedly inexperienced young 37-year-old woman landing the top job on the one hand, while lauding the young wahine talent running this election (who also, as it happened, ended up on the arse end of the list) and the need to capture the rangatahi vote in future, on the other
For clarity, I am upset that the Māori Party is not in parliament. Tā Pita Sharples is one of my absolute heroes, and it is for his work and legacy and the whānau who remain committed to the kaupapa of the Party that I feel the most regret in the Party’s untimely exit.
But in my mind, the tough question we need to honestly answer is: did we collectively do enough to deserve re-election for another term? Because between snickering and finger pointing few were willing to own or accept the Party’s blatant shortcomings. I appreciate that many variables made the Party’s task of re-election more challenging this time around and plenty of people have attempted to cover those variables since the election. But before the rebuild can begin, the Party must address that assumption: that it deserved to return to parliament this election.
The Party cannot just look back as many are suggesting. It must look past the table, and we must all re-learn to listen with our hearts. I know some people will be unhappy (potentially scathingly so) with my public purging but as a collective the Party must accept that people did not lose faith in themselves to be the leaders of their destiny. They did not lose faith in their identities. They lost confidence in the Party as a trustworthy vehicle to carry their aspirations. It’s time to regain that trust. That starts with ownership.