Having witnessed yesterday's excitement at Ratana, I am starting to wonder whether Gareth Morgan may actually be a surprisingly good political strategist.
Consider this: year in and year out, New Zealand First manages to cobble together an impressively diverse coalition of opinion ranging from rednecks to Rangatiratanga enthusiasts. Proof of this can be seen in the fact that the Party's strongest performing electorate seats are in fact the Maori Seats [seriously - look it up], while simultaneously the Hobson's Pledge organization offers us money.
It's not always easy keeping these two sectors of voter opinion on-side and moving in the same direction - particularly when the rhetoric required to wrangle them can wind up being fairly diametrically opposed [consider, for instance, Winston Peters angrily pointing to his personal record fighting against what he called the largest government confiscation of Maori land in history ... and then juxtapose that against his customary advocacy for going back to the legislative situation of the 2004 Foreshore & Seabed legislation - which, perhaps ironically, has *also* been called the largest Crown confiscation of Maori land in history, thanks to a legislative provision written by Winston himself].
I believe that Morgan has realized that there is an 'exploitable' fault-line here. Hence his references in his Ratana speech today to Winston and NZF's previous record.
The objective he must have in mind by drawing attention to NZF's "Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi Deletion Bill" effort from yesteryear - particularly at one of the highest political pilgrimage sites in Maoridom - must surely be to attempt to back Winston into a corner. Forcing Winston to either choose to double down upon his previous rhetoric and stances in opposition to Maori politics (with the consequent risk of alienating Maori support from NZF) - or to ameliorate his anti-'Separatism' (or "Apartheid" to use Winston's own somewhat hyperbolic wording) positioning in order to keep Maoridom on-side.
It will be interesting to see whether Morgan continues along this present line of attack for the rest of the Treaty Politics summer season. And, for that matter, in what direction (if any) this bears fruit - certainly with MANA looking to be back in contention this year, there is a possibility of NZF losing votes in other directions.
Although one could argue that Morgan's attack may represent a fundamental misreading of what we're about here in NZ First - and, for that matter, why we've continued to prove so undeniably popular to so many Maori voters and communities regardless of some of our previous actions and rhetoric.
New Zealand First stands for a unitary nationalism. Its very Caucus and membership embodies this concept (with the former being about 50% Maori, and the latter representing possibly the greatest concentration of Maori parliamentary-political activism in the recent MMP era outside of the Maori Party at its founding - seriously, attending an NZ First Convention is an exercise in applied biculturalism in more ways than one). And, as Morgan pointed out today, one in five NZ First voters are Maori. This would appear to suggest that there is a rather significant current out there in Maoridom who empathize quite strongly with what we're about.
With this in mind, it is possible that Morgan's efforts will have perhaps less impact upon NZF and our actual support base than he might anticipate - instead reprsenting something of a pantomime performance to project values to other parts of the electorate.
Besides, if the sympathetic media coverage (gosh, there's an odd phrase to be associating with Winston) from today is anything to go by - Winston may be "too big to fail" as he continues to snowball towards the Election; with intriguing points of scrutiny being as molotovs against Poseidon.