I am becoming increasingly impressed with the Mana Party leader Hone Harawira – and given the bad press he drew over the past couple of years due to his use of shall we say colourful language in public, that is a rather brave statement for a man of my vintage and sensibilities to make.
I may be wrong, but I believe Hone is learning that he can express strong sentiments and forceful arguments publicly without the use of four-letter words. The result, as I observe it, is that we can now see that the man does indeed have depth and clarity in his thinking and simple eloquence in its expression.
I venture to say that if he can keep this up through the current parliamentary term, he will indeed be able to claim mana among those he represents as well as the respect of the broad population, in the same way that Pita Sharples has in recent years.
The Labour Party should now be reversing its silly policy of the last election campaign, when it said it would never work with Hone (while still being happy to work with a man of far less integrity in Winston Peters).
This morning I heard Hone speak on the radio about the social welfare changes, and I was impressed with his clarity of message. No fudging around, just calling a spade a spade. And no sounding like an angry victim. To me he represented and laid out in simple terms the counter-argument in the debate – that the “reforms” in reality are not about getting more people into jobs, but dog-whistling to the National party’s electorate that beneficiaries will be dealt to. And that if there is no actual training programmes for people looking for jobs, and no actual jobs being created, then there is no point.
In contrast, National’s minister for Social Welfare, Paula Bennett, sounded full of platitudes about unspecified training and hoped-for new jobs but offered no actual plans, just estimates by officials with no reasons for the numbers quoted.
I was similarly most impressed by Harawira’s response a few weeks ago to Paul Holmes’s sad, nasty Waitangi Day column in the Herald. There was Hone – usually despised by the mainly pakeha majority for his poor choice of words – this time being the voice of reason, not taking Holmes’s poisonous bait but rather just setting out the real facts, firmly but without vitriol, no punches pulled but all above the belt.
I was also surprised and Impressed to see how well Hone stood up and put forward a respectful, well reasoned position during the televised minor-leaders debate during the last election. His contributions were worthy of a major opposition party, not just the ramblings of a marginal party.
At the risk of sounding sycophantic, I could also express pleasure at seeing the grace, style and humour that Hone showed at the events at Waitangi. Given the prominent – and roundly criticised – role that his family has taken at the Waitangi Day celebrations/protests over the past decade or so, it was a pleasure to see a more measured and laid-back approach from their highest profile representative. I’m sure that he still feels strongly about the treaty issues that he has fought over, but he is learning to couch his convictions in a good humoured way that is mindful of other opinions.
I think that Hone Harawira is coming of age and, with the Maori Party leadership aging and struggling to keep their identity while being a government coalition partner, he (and his party) is well poised to become the main voice for Maori political aspirations through this decade.
I’ve blogged before about some politicians who have impressed me with their direct, honest approach to New Zealanders. Pita Sharples had, and maybe still has, mana but his position within government is making it ever harder to provide an independent Maori perspective. Steven Joyce I once saw as a refreshingly direct interviewee but now I can see that under pressure he is simply driven by the need to spin facts in order to avoid inconvenient counter-arguments. And John Key – again I was mildly impressed in his early prime ministerial days with his directness, but that has long worn off and now I see little to admire in his bland dismissal of anything that doesn’t interest or please him.
No, I may be wrong but …. Hone Harawira is now the person I could soon find myself respecting most among our political leaders.