Bryce Edwards says Meka Whaitiri hasn't been 'honourable' with defection

A political pundit has hit out at Meka Whaitiri saying her move to Te Pāti Māori is "farcical" and all out of personal ambition and a lack of career progression. 

The Ikaroa-Rāwhiti MP surprised almost everyone in the Labour Party, including the Prime Minister, after it publicly came to light she was crossing the floor to Te Pāti Māori. 

She is also yet to reveal to Labour leaders, including the Prime Minister, why she jumped ship. 

Whaitiri has been removed as a minister of the Labour Government but appears to have kept her job as an MP by a technicality.

Meka Whaitiri.
Meka Whaitiri. Photo credit: Getty Images

This isn't the first time a politician has switched parties. Jim Anderton left the Labour Party in the 1980s, Winston Peters ditched National under Jim Bolger's leadership, Tariana Turia did the same when she left Helen Clark's Labour Government and Hone Harawira left the Māori Party. 

In his weekly interview with AM Early on Thursday, political commentator Bryce Edwards told the show he had never seen a move quite like it.

"As far as I'm concerned this has been incredibly farcical. New Zealand has a history of politicians leaving governments, and switching parties … and it's always been for very principled reasons after a long time when these politicians have tried to change their party from within and they've departed, giving very specific principled and honourable reasons," Edwards told AM Early host Michael O'Keefe. 

"This has been totally lacking in the case of Meka Whaitiri. I don't think she has been honourable in this situation. She gave a speech yesterday, it was devoid of any real substance, so, to me, this all looks like personal ambition, gripes, personal vanity, and really about the fact that she hasn't received the career progression that she wanted to under this current Government."

With Whaitiri moving to Te Pāti Māori, it raises the question of who will claim the Ikaroa-Rāwhiti electoral seat at this year's election, a seat Labour has dominated over the years. 

But that could be all about to change as Edwards believes Whaitiri will win Te Pāti Māori the Ikaroa-Rāwhiti seat, which Labour has held since 1999 when the electorate was first created. 

"She's held the seat for nearly ten years, she has huge personal support in that electorate, so I don't have much doubt that she will be able to retain this for Te Pāti Māori," he said. 

"In the Māori world, personalities really matter and she has a lot of personal support and has assiduously been kind of keeping that up over the years, so I don't think that's going to be a problem keeping it for Te Pāti Māori."

Edwards believes Whaitiri's move will be a huge injection of "dynamism" and will give Te Pāti Māori momentum going into this year's election. 

He believes the election will be all about the smaller parties and they will dictate who will win. 

"This current election already is very much a minor party election. It's all about the minors. It's about Greens, ACT, Te Pāti Māori, maybe even New Zealand First, not so much about Labour and National, they seem to be stuck at the 35 percent support mark," Edwards told AM Early. 

Te Pāti Māori currently has two members in Parliament - one from the party list and one electorate seat.

But Edwards believes this could be about to change and the party could see a sudden increase in seats following this year's election, to potentially make them kingmaker.

"It's going to be about the kingmakers. Te Pāti Māori is now really strongly placed because they will now have another seat and that makes it more likely that they won't be shifted out of Parliament. I suspect they will grow the number of seats they get," Edwards said.

Political commentator Bryce Edwards said he's never seen a move quite like it.
Political commentator Bryce Edwards said he's never seen a move quite like it. Photo credit: AM

While Labour was shocked and disappointed by Whaitiri's move, Edwards believe this will actually help them in the long run at this year's election.

"The speaker seemed to do some somersaults, some kind of rational somersaults to try and keep her in Parliament. It seems to me that Labour has bent over backwards," Edwards explained. 

"They might be upset about her departing, but they don't want to fight with Te Pāti Māori because they need that party to be a solid support party after the election. 

"I think they've decided not to invoke the waka-jumping legislation precisely just out of realpolitik, out of trying to keep onside with Te Pāti Māori."

Watch the full interview with Bryce Edwards in the video above.