Tight Five

Tight Five

The Tight Five was a nickname given to the five Māori elected to the New Zealand Parliament in 1996 from the centrist/nationalist New Zealand First party.

New Zealand First had been founded in 1993 by Winston Peters, a former National Party Minister of Māori Affairs. He was half-Maori, and his party quickly won support from Māori who felt that the Labour Party was taking their support for granted. In that year's election, Tau Henare, great-grandson of legendary Māori politician Taurekareka Henare, unseated the Labour MP in the Northern Māori seat, one of five seats reserved for Māori, and became New Zealand First's second MP. This broke a long Labour hold on the Māori seats. Soon after that election, Peters named Henare as deputy leader of New Zealand First.

The party was the biggest beneficiary of New Zealand's switch to mixed member proportional representation. In the 1996 elections, New Zealand First won 17 seats. In addition, it swept all five Māori seats. Henare was reelected in Te Tai Tokerau (the former Northern Maori). He was joined by Rana Waitai in Te Puku O Te Whenua, Tuku Morgan in Te Tai Hauauru, Tuariki Delamere in Te Tai Rawhiti, and Tu Wyllie in Te Tai Tonga. The four new MPs each pushed Labour into second place. When New Zealand First entered a coalition with National with Peters as deputy prime minister, Henare and Delamere joined Peters in Cabinet. Henare served as minister of Māori affairs and Delamere as minister of immigration and Pacific affairs.

The five Māori MPs soon became known as the "Tight Five," after the five rugby forwards who do most of the pushing in a scrum. Largely because of their huge electoral upset, they gained a very high profile in both New Zealand First and nationwide. However, they along with many other New Zealand First MPs attracted some controversy for their behavior. Morgan, in particular, caught heat for reportedly misapropriating funds from a television network where he worked before entering Parliament.

When National's Jim Bolger was ousted as prime minister in a party room coup by Jenny Shipley, tensions rapidly developed between the coalition partners and within New Zealand First itself. Eventually, Henare tried to stage a party room coup of his own against Peters, but failed. Soon after that, Shipley sacked Peters from Cabinet. Peters immediately pulled New Zealand First out of the coalition, but eight New Zealand First MPs left the party instead and continued to support National as independents. Among these MPs were all of the Tight Five except Wyllie.

Henare, Waitai and Morgan eventually founded a new party, Mauri Pacific, led by Henare. Delamere remained an independent until the 1999 elections, when he joined the Te Tawharau, a small Māori party allied with the Mana Māori Movement.

In the 1999 elections, all of the Tight Five were defeated, with only Delamere managing to even finish second. Henare is the only one who has remained in politics, but did not return to Parliament until 2005, as a National list MP.

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