Goodby patience... and goodbye Hone Harawira?

Rush, rush rush... if only the protagonists in the Maori Party squabble could taiho they may find a way to reconcile. But the political timetable is pushing them towards division

Patience. Funny how it runs out when it comes to elections. The Maori Party could do with a healthy dose of it right now, and that should come naturally, given the emphasis in kaupapa Maori of taking the long view. But the impatience shown by Hone Harawira and his caucus colleagues is very modern and, for me, the spade they're currently using to dig themselves a real hole.

Of course the heart of the problem is that politics is overcoming ethnicity; Harawira's concern for the working classes are jamming hard up against Tariana Turia's and the corporate-minded iwi leadership. Yes, class still matters. The differing views of partial privatisation is a clear example of that.

A smidgen more patience, though, would go a long way to buying some time for these debates to be had, assuming (perhaps wrongly) that the party leaders want to find a resolution with Harawira.

For all of the talk around the coalition with National, many of this very public tenions in the party seems to stem form the foreshore and seabed, and the inability of politicians to taiho. It's hard when voters and critics are shooting from the hip and the 24/7 media want instant answers. But from Labour's first rushed decision to intervene in the court process back in 2003 to the Maori Party's determination to repeal and replace the existing law in its first term of coalition, speed has been the enemy of an enduring solution.

I still see the logic of the foreshore and seabed being held in public hands – and I suspect most New Zealanders in their guts feel that the coastline should belong to us all and would be happiest if it was held in common.

I also see how iwi and hapu must feel about their right to own – and go to court over – something claimed as first arrivals and never sold or surrendered. And as I've written before, I can't see any fair and final determination on the foreshore and seabed until ownership and control of the entirety is considered and debated, including the 12,500 private titles.

Which is why the ministerial review panel that considered the issue and reported back in July 2009 was right when it said:

As the Waitangi Tribunal noted in 2004, the issues underlying the Act required
“a longer conversati on” than that which had previously occurred. That
necessary conversation did not fully occur during our inquiry... What we propose should not be seen as an end but as a beginning; a catalyst to further dialogue before the optimum design is sett led and final decisions are made.

Instead, National is repeating Labour's mistake by wanting the bomb buried rather than properly diffused. And the Maori Party wants to show its chops by simply getting a new bill passed, and locked in.

Harawira gets all this, kind of, but can't take the plank out of his own eye. He damns his own party for not achieving immediate results in government. He's right that neither his party nor National are doing squat to address inequality and unemployment. But he needs to stop yelling, slow down and think through a strategy if he wants that to change.

Insisting, for example, as he does in his statement today that National should "cancel any further bailouts for big business" and spend that money on Maori education, promising to have Maori kids under 10 reading, writing and counting "well" by 2014 is just ridiculous. Which bailouts? How much money? What does well mean? And how exactly are you going to rectify ingrained underachievement in three years, sir?

That sort of panicked statement just undermines his credibility.

He needs to figure out exactly what he wants. Heck, maybe he knows already. Maybe it's martyrdom; the sort Winston Peters gained in 1993 when he left National. His actions are so at odds with his words about wanting to stay, that you have to wonder.

Is he asking his party to withdraw from the coalition? Or to refuse to back National again? Either would undermine its influence. Would have them commit to Labour? Then it would be better to stay and win the internal fight.

As for the party's MPs, suspending your colleague two days before he's due to appear before your own disciplinary hearing is like passing sentence before the trial; it's like a cabinet minister saying a criminal is guilty as hell just before the jury go out to deliberate. It's blatantly unjust and, again, looks rushed. Or, as if the decision has already been made, perhaps weeks ago.

As Andrew so perceptively wrote last month, the hiring of Mai Chen and eagerness to do the disciplinary process by the (pakeha) book prompts the question as to whether expulsion was always the intended outcome.

Indeed, the timing of all this, well before the election, suggests that both sides want this brought to a head now, well before the election, so there's time to cool down and soothe voters in the intervening months.

The Maori Party, for all their remarkable success in so few years, can't take anything for granted. Shane Jones is looking to stand against Pita Sharples in Tamaki Makaurau, Rino Tirikatene is challenging Rahui Katene in Te Tai Tonga (following two generations of previous Tirikatene's who held the seat), Harawira vs the Maori Party vs Labour could split the northern seat in a way that's hard to predict... There are risks all around, and the last thing it wants is to find itself a two-MP party.

And that's why no-one seems willing to taiho. Politics, having trumped ethnicity, is now going to topple patience and commonsense as well. While reconciliation would be best aided by a cooling off period and some slow talking, the election demands another path.

Both sides want this tension to be resolved one way or another, and they want it resolved pronto.