Ratana visit strengthening Maori ties

Prime Minister John Key will be welcomed to Ratana at 1.30pm today, in a visit to a place which has special significance for political leaders.

Mr Key, accompanied by at least half of his caucus, will be among the several thousand people expected to descend on the small village south of Wanganui, to celebrate the life and work of prophet, faith healer and political leader T. W. Ratana.

Of significance for Mr Key is that he will be accompanied by Maori Affairs Minister and Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples.

Mr Key and Dr Sharples have a close relationship and although there were a couple of pre-Christmas bumps, the actions by Mr Key this year have shown he values the relationship and is determined to make it work.

Earlier this week, he said he would talk to Maori leaders about helping lift the standards for Maori.

One would expect those talks to revolve around education and employment in the first instance.

But there could be help available for Maori wanting to expand into business and become more self-sufficient.

The Maori vote remains crucial for both National and Labour.

As forecast by Capital Comment last year, Labour leader Phil Goff ventured out of Auckland and on to the marae during the summer break.

He spent time with former Maori affairs minister Parekura Horomia in Tolaga Bay, at Pa Wars, a form of Top Town.

What Labour and National do in chasing the Maori vote might not ring any particular chords for southern voters, but the visit today by Mr Key to the place where Ratana first declared himself to be a Labour supporter in 1936 will be of huge significance to National if it wants to be in power for three terms.

The days when Ratana-aligned candidates held the Maori seats have gone, but the importance of the religious movement to Maori remains.

Being welcomed on to the marae in friendly terms will set the scene for Mr Key to make another important visit to Waitangi on February 6.

The Maori Party needs to be seen to be achieving, for not only its members and supporters, but also for the wider Maori community.

While the rest of the country awaits Mr Key's recession-beating announcements on February 4, he is likely to start today building up the economic aspirations of an important voting bloc.

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