Tamihere decision will define Labour for generation
Labour’s New Zealand Council will soon consider John Tamihere’s application to re-join the party.
Despite Mr Tamihere being encouraged by current leader David Shearer, who believes he would make a fine social development minister, the council faces a terrible dilemma.
Either choice will define Labour for a generation – neither in a good way.
On one hand, Mr Tamihere’s membership should be automatic.
He is a former New Zealander of the Year and Labour cabinet minister, a popular working-class media personality and an undisputed community leader in the region that could well decide the next election.
On the other, Mr Tamihere has offended all the party’s factions.
The Women’s Council may have forgiven him calling them “frontbums” and for slamming Helen Clark.
But, since leaving parliament, Mr Tamihere has continued to be an outspoken critic of identity politics, including feminism.
A year ago, he attacked David Cunliffe for selecting Nanaia Mahuta as his running mate: ''The only thing she's lacking is a limp. Then he would have got the disabled vote too.”
Choosing her made Mr Cunliffe “smarmy,” he said.
His relations with Rainbow Labour are no better, having called gay people a health hazard to the rest of the community.
Nor is Mr Tamihere a friend of the unions.
Then, in February, he backed Act’s charter schools policy, planning to set one up.
“All we're looking at doing,” he said, “is bringing the best practice from Remuera to the west.”
Mr Tamihere has also lost friends in Labour’s caucus.
A month ago, he criticised them on national TV: “The front bench is not firing, across the whole line, whether it’s health, welfare or education.”
These are just a fraction of the comments the ruling council (and National and the Greens) will have uncovered.
Accepting Mr Tamihere’s application would not only offend the party’s membership, it would provide wonderful ammunition for Labour’s opponents in 2014.
Nevertheless, rejecting Mr Tamihere is also fraught with risk.
There is almost no precedent for a rejection, and certainly none involving a person of his calibre.
A judicial review would be certain and no doubt Mr Tamihere is already operating with the benefit of legal counsel.
Mr Shearer’s encouragement of Mr Tamihere’s return would surely be brought up in court and it would be argued the council, dominated by unionists and Rainbow Labour, was not an impartial jury.
Even worse for Labour are the political risks.
Mr Tamihere and Winston Peters are again on good terms.
If Mr Tamihere joined NZ First, the two could hit the road in the provinces and West Auckland portraying Labour as controlled by feminists and gays with no residual interest in good old working-class kiwi blokes.
That would undoubtedly transfer 5% of the vote from Labour to NZ First, putting the former down to 25% and the latter well above 10%.
Mr Tamihere may dream of being social development minister in a Labour-led government.
But, if his membership application fails, it’s not impossible to imagine him as social development minister in a National/NZ First coalition.