The battle for Tamaki Makaurau

Organisation will be key to winning the Maori seat on the Auckland isthmus. But guest Pundit Morgan Godfery says even Labour's well-oiled turn-out machine will find Pita Sharples tough to topple

Shane Jones knows it's do or die in Tamaki Makaurau. A win equals redemption; a loss spells the end of his career.

It's no secret Shane Jones harbours leadership ambitions. However he's old school and also knows that if he’s to have a serious crack at the job he needs the ‘mana’ of holding an electorate seat. He also needs to win to cement his redemption. Over the past 18 months Jones has put his head down and, for the most part, kept his mouth shut. He’s done the time and he’s ready for a crack at the big time.

If, however, Jones fails to snatch the seat he will re-evaluate his place in politics (meaning he’ll probably quit).

But what are the chances of Jones winning the seat? Well, pretty slim. And what are the chances of him securing the leadership of the Labour Party? Well, even slimmer.

It’s always difficult to topple the incumbent, especially when the incumbent is Pita Sharples. Sharples enjoys massive support among urban Maori. He is one of the pioneers of the urban Maori revival and one of the central figures in the Auckland Maori community. Name a Maori organisation in Aucklandand chances are Pita Sharples has some connection to it

It is true that Shane Jones is Nga Puhi (the most populous Iwi in Tamaki Makaurau), but whakapapa (ancestry) plays a diminished role among urban Maori. That’s what separates Tamaki Makaurau from the other electorates – Tamaki is wholly urban and traditional values, for example whakapapa, that would inform the voting decisions of many rural Maori don’t apply to the same extent among urban Maori.

Sharples will, without doubt, suffer a reflex backlash and see his majority slashed. He can expect nothing less after ignoring thousands of Maori submissions against the Marine and Coastal Areas Act, after casually disregarding a hikoi against the act and after failing to acknowledge that it was contrary to Maori aspirations. He can expect some flak for supporting the ETS, the unfair tax switch and, generally speaking, propping up a National Government that has taken Maori backwards.

Nevertheless, Sharples can rely on the support of Ngati Whatua (the local iwi). He fought hard for Maori seats on the Auckland Council and, in what some described as an election year sop, gave the tribe its “tupperwaka”, as Shane Jones calls it.

Basically, Jones is up against it. Sharples can be almost guaranteed the support of urban Maori and the local iwi. Jones, on the other hand, cannot rely on any one group. I see his best chance of winning the seat is if Sharple's campaign infrastructure collapses. The Maori Party relied very heavily on Willie Jackson, John Tamihere and their political contacts/campaign expertise. If Sharples fails to translate his support into votes, then Jones with the help of Shane Phillips (his campaign manager who ran Kelvin Davis' by-election campaign and the successful GOTV campaign) may mobilise enough Labour voters to snatch the seat.

Having said that, it’s a long, long shot.

(In the next post I’ll examine Shane’s chances of leading the Labour Party) 

 Morgan is a guest Pundit in the run-up to the election, blogging on Maori politics. Check out his own excellent website Maui Street.