Sunday, July 2, 2017

Frank Newman: Jones - NZ First Leader in Waiting

On 28 April 2014 we wrote this about Shane Jones.

Jones heads for the transit lounge

The liquefaction within the Labour Party surfaced again this week with the impending departure of Shane Jones from the Party and Parliament.

The public face is one of pleasant well wishing. What’s really going only the insiders would know, but our speculation is that Jones faced a number of unpalatable choices and he went for the one that gives him the best long-term political opportunity.

There is no doubt since the departure of Helen Clark the neo-communist trade union faction within the Labour Party has gained control. That would not sit well with Jones and made his chances of ever becoming party leader pretty slim – despite him being their best hope of success at the ballot box.

When Cunliffe falls, the dubious honour of the leadership will probably go to the ex-trade union boss, Andrew Little (and after him to the current President of the Council of Trade Unions, Helen Kelly, who no doubt has “Labour MP” predetermined on her career path).

The truth is that Shane Jones is too much a believer in free enterprise to sit comfortably with a far-left trade unionist party. In fact, he actually has more in common with National than Labour (and less so with a Labour government that would include the manic Green and Mana parties). As a populist politician with the gift of the gab he has a style more akin to his great mate, Winston Peters.

Our view is that Jones will return to politics. The allure of drifting around the Pacific Islands drinking coconut juice will soon wear thin; politics is more intoxicating and an addiction few are able to give up – especially attention-seekers like Jones. We therefore expect Jones to return to politics – not with Labour, but with NZ First. It makes sense. NZ First with Jones as leader is likely to be just as attractive as under Winston Peters – and it will give Jones a chance to become Deputy PM in a future government that would more than likely be National, rather than Labour, but it could be either, depending on how much each is prepared to concede.

National too would not be displeased with such an outcome – it would give them what they lack – a long-term coalition partner with significant popular support. That will be for 2017. First National has to deal with the election just 20 weeks away.

So what now about Jones and the future of NZ First.

Shane Jones will return to Parliament care of a high list placing (#3) or by stealing the safe National held seat of Whangarei. I expect the electorate will be a close run race, even though National's Share Reiti holds it by a huge majority, +13,000 votes. The truth is, National has never faced a tough candidate in Whangarei like Jones and Reiti has been too hamstrung having to toe the party line to define himself and establish a strong presence in the electorate. He's vulnerable, and National knows it. It is no coincidence that two weeks ago National pledged another $3m to the Hundertwasser project to take the total funding to the fundraising target. The local MP did not miss the photo opportunity.

The biggest loser will be Ron Mark. He will have to accept he will not lead NZ First. Despite being the most competent among what must be considered a very average bunch of NZ First MPs, it is pretty obvious he is no match for Jones, and would not have been very good leader anyway. Ron Mark will probably concede as much and not contest the deputy leadership after the election. That will leave Jones the crown prince in waiting, for the time when Winston Peter's decides to stand aside, but not before becoming Deputy PM.

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