The idea of an alliance between the two has been floated by persons as diverse as Matthew Hooton and Pita Sharples (1). The big issue that seperates the two is National's stated policy (2) of seeking the abolition of the Maori seats. As Hooton (3) points out, this isn't going to happen in the life of the next parliament. Even the next again would , at best, see the first steps towards describing the "constitutional process to abolish the Maori seats" (4).
The suggestion is that it is a non-issue. According to Sharples, "... the reality is that’s not going to happen in the next three years and we need to fight for the things to benefit Maori and New Zealand today over the next three years – I’m talking about education, I’m talking about health, I’m talking about family strength, I’m talking about community development" (5).
If the overtures between the parties alluded to are genuine, then I think both parties are being very short sighted. Again, however, this seems to be some theme for this election - choices are made because they are expedient, not because they relate to any principle, or even any strategy beyond grabbing (in the case of National and the Maori) the government benches) or clinging on to them (in the case of Labour and New Zealand First).
The Maori party should think long and hard before it gives power to a party that has committed itself to abolishing the Maori seats, regardless of whether it will be in this parliament or another. The indications are that the Nats are ready to do an about turn on this issue for the sake of gaining Maori Party support. But isn't this flexibility the problem?
If National are willing to switch like this when it suits them, next time around it might suit them to declare the time has come to address the issue of the Maori seats. There is not certainty that the Maori Party will be in colaition with National in the 2011-14 parliament, when the 'constitutional framework' will be set up.
A National/Maori Party government this time makes a National/Someone else government more likely next time. By concentrating ton the next three years and leaving the fundamental ideological conflict between the parties for another day, the Maori Party are playing into National's hands. If National win in 2008, they will almost certainly win in 2011 - and they will be stronger, and possibly have more options for coalition. The Maori Party might find themselves scratching their heads on the opposition benches in 2011, wondering why John Key and his new coalition partner won't eturn their calls.
And without the Maori seats, the Mori Party will probably be eliminated from parliament. Sharples can talk about focusing on the real, immediate issues, but if he doesn't expect them all to be resolved within the next decade, he needs to keep a eye on the long game as well.
As for National, if they allied with Maori, it is likely there will be a backlash and part of National's core support will break away to form a 'One Nation' style party, cannibalizing the NZ First constinuency and the National rump which finds the idea of coalition with the Maori Party unacceptable. That will make things awkward for National and though the new party (lead, perhaps, by Michael Laws - there's a scary thought!) will be a natural ally for them in the future, they will be a nasty lot and foist all manner of nasty, bigotted policies on the country. And it is a dead cert they'll be hungry for the abolition of the Maori seats.
[Hat tips: Tumeke (5) and Pat (6)]
1 - "Sharples says Nats 'privately' lukewarm on abolishing Maori seats" by Ben Thomas, published in the National Busines Review, 30th of September, 2008. (http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/sharples-says-nats-privately-lukewarm-abolishing-maori-seats-35828)
2 - "Maori Affairs, Treaty & Electoral Law policies released ," by John Key, published on the National Party website, 28th of September, 2008. (http://www.national.org.nz/Article.aspx?ArticleId=28602)
3 - "Why doesn’t National drop the pretence on the Maori seats?" by Matthew Hootn, posted on policy.net.nz/blog, 3oth of September, 2008. (http://www.policy.net.nz/blog/2008/09/30/why-doesnt-national-drop-the-pretence-on-the-maori-seats/)
4 - Key, op. cit.
5 - "Nats say one thing in public and another in private," posted by Bomber Bradbury on Tumeke!, 30th of September, 2008. (http://tumeke.blogspot.com/2008/09/nats-say-one-thing-in-public-and.html)
6 - This rant is an adaptation and expansion of comments made in reply to Pat's comments on an earlier posting. They can all be read here: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2008/09/aint-that-truth.html