The Maori MPs in Labour have laid down the gauntlet to their Pakeha colleagues with the challenge from Hauraki Waikato MP Nanaia Mahuta for the Labour Party leadership.
It's a clever move and they have caught their colleagues off guard. No one expected Mahuta to stand - she has been an MP 18 years, and although she is competent and capable she does not have any 'X Factor' or crossover appeal. Those are special qualities that are required, particularly from Maori MPs who aspire to leadership.
Shane Jones, John Tamihere and Te Taitokerau MP Kelvin Davis, have these traits. It is a shame that Davis isn't standing for the leadership. His name has been bandied about by many commentators and, unlike Mahuta, he is known to wider New Zealand.
Most of that recognition came after he beat Hone Harawira for his seat and shut Kim Dotcom out of parliament. It was an admirable achievement, even though he received help from a dumb Internet-Mana strategy, the Maori Party, Labour Party, the Prime Minister and Winston Peters, and, it seemed, 99 percent of Kiwis who all felt outrage over Dotcom.
However, Davis handled himself well; he was humble in victory and magnanimous in his dealings with Harawira. He was mentored by Shane Jones and now would have been a perfect time to launch a leadership bid. He has obviously made a choice to support Mahuta, which is a little ironic given that she is probably one of the reasons why Jones quit parliament.
Mahuta and Louisa Wall didn't support Jones when he stood for leadership, preferring to back their Pakeha colleague David Cunliffe. And Mahuta's nomination for leader clearly has Cunliffe's name written all over it. Because of this she is unlikely to get the deputy role which I'm sure is the ultimate goal.
She knows she doesn't have any hope of becoming the leader, however, she is challenging her party to recognise the contribution from the Maori MPs in the recent election. While Pakeha New Zealand in the main rejected Labour, Maori embraced them, forgiving them for their past sins and rewarding them by handing them six of the seven Maori seats. She is basically saying now "what's that worth?" - and it's a fair question because Labour has taken the Maori vote and its Maori members for granted for as long as I can remember.
Cuddling up to Cunliffe, however, will not help her cause. He is despised by most of his caucus, so I will be surprised if the caucus back Mahuta for deputy given her relationship with him. The disappointing part of this is that the Maori caucus have probably missed a golden opportunity to snare a leadership position simply by putting Mahuta's name up instead of the obvious candidate, Kelvin Davis.
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source: data archive