The Return of Hone Harawira: Professional Race-Baiter
Whenever elections draw near, always expect past failed candidates to pretend to be relevant as they try to stake a political comeback. We saw several recently, as the case with former MP Laila Harre declaring her intention to seek a list ranking with the Labour Party. Then, Labour also took in Willie Jackson into their ranks – himself, a former MP with the Alliance Party in the 90’s. Both have sought to revive their political careers in the past, neither being successful. In Harre’s case, her bid in the 2014 elections was even funded by millionaire fugitive Kim Dotcom and yet still unable to find success.
That is a testament to how difficult it is to return to Parliament after already being rejected by voters. The one notable exception to this rule is when Winston Peters’ New Zealand First returned to parliament in 2011 after being evicted in 2008. Other than that, accomplishing such feat is difficult and is the reason why so many choose to forego politics altogether once they have been voted out.
However, the allure for power is enough for many to rise from the dead and to try and challenge this rule. This week, we saw another zombie rising out of his grave in the person of Hone Harawira. The former Mana Party MP signed his own death sentence when he entered a deal with Dotcom in 2014, losing his Te Tai Tokerau seat to Kelvin Davis of the Labour Party. It was a defeat he blamed on the Maori Party for running a candidate in the same electorate, thus splitting the votes and allowing Labour to snatch the seat off him.
This time around, Harawira has declared that he was back in politics as he forged an alliance with the Maori Party – a group he once was a part of but later disavowed due to conflicts regarding policy. Both parties agreed not to run candidates in the same electorates, thus avoiding split-voting. Their intention is to retake all Maori seats off the Labour Party which they consider to be a non-Maori party, as explained by Harawira himself: “Maori lands in Maori hands. Same with the seats, Maori seats in Maori hands.”
Such is what you could expect from Hone Harawira, a perennial race-baiter. For him, Maori are oppressed left, right and centre and never fails to vent his frustration. Throughout his stint as Minister of Parliament, Harawira has frequently featured in the headlines for his controversial views on race. He infamously said that he would “not feel comfortable” if one of his children brought home Pakeha partners. As a student, Harawira also bragged of being part of an activist group that assaulted Pakeha men with baseball bats for a denigrating parody of the Maori haka dance.
These comments made Harawira a polarizing figure in New Zealand politics and is one of the reasons why the Maori Party chose to part ways with him in 2011. But it can also be attributed to his popularity because of the publicity his antics attract. In 2009 for example, Harawira sent an e-mail to a Waitangi Tribunal member calling him a “white motherfucker”. The incident was criticized and was the final straw in the Maori Party’s patience for the man his followers call “Uncle Hone”.
Yet, use the same disregard for racial nuances against him and Harawira shows his hypocrisy. He has called Don Brash a “racist and a redneck” for establishing Hobson’s Pledge, a non-profit which calls for the end of separatist policies based on racial lines. In the same thread, he called MP Todd McClay a “foolish dickhead” for introducing a bill in 2012, banning the use of patches which criminal gangs use to identify themselves. In his diatribe, Harawira referenced McClay as a “blonde-haired, blue-eyed redneck” who was “kicking poor people stuck in a blonde-haired, blue-eyed society.”
Harawira was rightfully reprimanded but imagine if the tables were turned and he was at the receiving end of a racially-profiling invective? New Zealand would never hear the end of it, and an inquiry would be pursued by the Race Relations Commission. The episode shows Harawira’s hypocrisy: able to dish out racial expletives but becomes vindictive when he takes them.
This exactly is what New Zealand politics should expect to see if Harawira is successful in his return to Parliament. He is called a firebrand and an activist, but clearly he is also a race-baiter. The paradox of his character is that he calls for better race relations in our multi-racial society, but he himself hinders such from happening.