I asked the question last week about whether tired and grumpy would be the winner on election day.

Grumpy won.

The party vote percentages hardly moved after the first 10 minutes. The die was cast, and Labour was punished in the electorates, interestingly both in the general electorates and the Māori electorates.

While we await the counting of special votes to give us the final election result, the political number-crunchers have smoke coming off their abaci (yes, that is the plural of abacus) trying to work out and what the exact shape of our next Government will be.

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Much has already been said about the Te Pāti Māori taking three of the Maori electorates off Labour and ending the parliamentary career of veteran Nanaia Mahuta. There were other results so far not talked about which show the changing face of Māoridom and the country.

Back to those Māori seats for a mo. Even without the benefit yet of a deep dive into the data down to polling booth level, I believe Saturday night was a sea change election for Māori politics.

Te Pāti Māori mobilised rangatahi (young people) to vote in numbers and focus like no one else has before. That was evident in Hauraki-Waikato where 21-year-old Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke bettered an incumbent who had held various incarnations of that seat since before she was born.

Te Pāti Māori refer to themselves as a movement. Earlyish in the evening Tākuta Ferris, who won the South Island Maori seat of Te Tai Tonga, told Whakaata Māori television that it didn’t matter or not if he won on the night as he and his supporters were part of a movement that is ongoing.

It wasn’t just the marketing advisors at the top end of town like the Topham Guerin’s of the world influencing voters with slick social media tricks. Te Pāti Māori has a strong social media game. They generated an energy that was attractive, and it worked.

By the same token, veteran Māori broadcaster, political commentator and former Labour staffer, Jason Ake, lamented: “One of the problems for Labour’s Maori caucus was the inverse effects of the racism debate. They were constrained by how they could respond for fear of alienating the soft centre faction. It didn’t work and the only voices that were loud enough in the noise were those from Te Pāti Māori and the Greens. It delivered a boon of support for both their party and candidate votes.”

Labour’s Māori MPs were caught between the taniwha and the deep blue sea. Some of the Māori policy programme like co-governance and Three Waters felt complicated, and ‘complicated’ is hard to explain and therefore easy to make mischief with. These things combined to be something of a leg rope on Labour. 

More Māori MPs

The not-talked-about bit is that despite the big swing to the right, the number of Māori who won general seats and the number of Māori in Parliament overall could be the highest ever. In 2020 on the back of the red wave there 26 Māori MPS in Parliament, 16 of them in Labour. This time, we could potentially end up with 30 Māori MPs.

National, Labour, ACT and the Greens all have MPs with Maori whakapapa who have won general seats in this election. The real stand-out to me as the fact that National has five. Dr Shane Reti in Whangārei; Dan Bidois in Northcote; Tama Potaka in Hamilton West; David McLeod in New Plymouth and James Meager in Rangitata.

As an aside. This is also the first election I recall Māori candidates tipping out Maori sitting MPs in general electorates, when Dan Bidois dumped out Shanan Halbert, and James Meager beat Jo Luxton.

The new crop of Māori MPs has hugely diverse backgrounds. From Tamatha Paul in Wellington Central to Dr Shane Reti in Whangārei you couldn’t get two MPs who are more different in their politics, age and outlook.

So what? You might ask. It was not that long ago that there very few Māori wanting to run in general seats and there were fewer who got selected by their parties.

To me, it somewhat undermines the racially-charged clamour that permeated the election campaign. Perhaps our political leaders will find there’s not as much division as the Henny Pennies and Chicken Lickens’ wailed at them.

The ugly side of this year’s election has been the racial vilification many non-white candidates experienced during the campaign. Perversely, even National Party candidate Te Hinurewa te Hau told Whakaata Maori she had encountered it.

Māoridom’s broad church

I see luscious irony in the potential scenario that Te Pāti Māori could yet win two more Māori seats, which will create an overhang that might require New Zealand First to be included in a coalition with National and the Act Party.

Fun fact (although probably not for them): National won so many electorate seats that two more potential Māori MPs will probably miss out getting into Parliament on the list. Christchurch Central candidate Dale Stephens has been a loyal journeyman for National. He stood in Ikaroa Rawhiti in 1999, against Peter Dunne in Ohariu-Belmont in 2002 and Christchurch Central in the last two elections. Tough seats for National to win. It looked like he would get in on list this time.

The other to drop out of list place reckoning was former Whanganui and National list MP Harete Hipango. She was also one of two National candidates in Māori seats this year. She stood in Te Tai Hauauru. (The second was Hinurewa te Hau who stood in Tamaki Makaurau).

I vacillate between being mildly surprised and hoha that so many ‘Kiwis’ just don’t realise or don’t want to accept that Māoridom is a broad church. Many times, over the years, I’ve been asked, ‘why can’t you Maoris just get along with each other?’ The inference being we should always agree on everything, usually because that would be convenient for someone.

I always reply; you bring me all the denominations of the Christian church – you know, Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, agreeing on everything in the Bible, and I’ll bring you on a silver platter Māoridom agreeing on everything.

Success breeds success and as more Māori candidates find favour in electorates more will be encouraged to stand.

Combine that with the rapidly growing number of young Māori who are going to turn 18 and become eligible to vote over the next few elections, and you have an even broader (and louder) church to represent.

Political parties ignore this at their peril.

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