What does Labour in Te Tai Tokerau? Does it give Kelvin Davis carte blanche to go for Hone Harawira’s throat? If he succeeds, Harawira, the Mana Party and the Internet Mana Party all bite the dust, but at the risk of losing vital left-bloc votes. Or does Labour rein Mr Davis in, grit its teeth and (assuming they’ve got the opportunity after 20 September) get used to the prospect of having to work with Harawira, Harre and Sykes et al?
Whatever it decides to do, it needs to make the decision quickly, as the anti-“coat-tailing” dissension in Labour’s ranks is looking messy.
As was to be expected, Kelvin Davis was first out of the ranks to attack Hone Harawira on Radio NZ – unsurprising, given that Davis wants Harawira’s seat, and Harawira had just provided Davis with a very big stick to hit him with.
Then came Chris Hipkins’ tweet:
The good old days, when political parties formed from movements. Now all it takes is a couple of million and some unprincipled sellouts.
And Phil Goff chimed in on Facebook with:
Not to be out-done, Chris Hipkins lurched back into the fray with:
I’m out the [sic] campaigning for Labour to win the election, not steal it through the type of dodgy deals we’ve rightly criticized National for.
When you’ve riled Chris Trotter up enough for him to write a blog post entitled “Authoritarian Labour: Why Kelvin Davis Needs To STFU – Right Now!“, you know that a little dose of party discipline is required.
The problem Labour has is that David Cunliffe has hardly made it clear what the party’s position should be. When he was first interviewed on Radio NZ, just after the Internet Mana deal was announced, Cunliffe’s position was that Labour was aiming for a clean sweep of the Maori seats. However, his language was hedged – he wasn’t announcing a full-scale assault on Te Tai Tokerau, but he also didn’t want to be seen to be simply abandoning the seat to Harawira.
Since then, the rumours from unnamed sources within Labour have been that the party will tell Kelvin Davis to pull his punches, but there will be no public announcement that Te Tai Tokerau voters should support Harawira – an Epsom-style “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” situation, if you like. Besides, having been so vociferously opposed to the deals that National has done with ACT and United Future (and may very well do with the Conservatives), Labour can hardly now turn around and openly endorse such a deal with the Internet Mana Party.
Nonetheless, Labour needs to decide quickly whether it gives Harawira a tacit endorsement or whether it decides to try and take him out. And the Labour caucus needs to know what that decision is, so that a coherent party line can be followed. In Andrea Vance’s latest article on the subject, she writes that, “A spokesman for Labour said Cunliffe was “off the grid” and not available for comment”. That’s terrible political management from Labour. Cunliffe looks like he doesn’t have a clue about what he should say or do on the issue, which just gives Davis, Hipkins and Goff licence to say or type whatever comes into their minds.