Hard News by Russell Brown


Jones: The contender leaves

Like John Tamihere before him, Shane Jones entered Parliament burdened with the promise that he might be first Maori Prime Minister. That promise had probably left him before it emerged yesterday evening that he was walking away from politics, but that's the Jones that Morgan Godfery mourns today in an eloquent, emotional post that identifies, for better and worse, Jones' political whakapapa and his meaning for many Maori.

Maori political history isn't rich with choice. Telling us to wait for a more "progressive" candidate is deeply offensive. Maori have waited too long for too little. Shane was an opportunity and one many - including myself - were willing to back. He wasn’t perfect, but he was as close as we’ve come in more than a decade to the centre of power. Winston was the last Maori politician to come close to real power. It’s been a century since Maori actually touched it (Carroll as acting prime minister). Forgive us for working with what we have.

Morgan was not alone in his perspective after the news broke. As always seems to be the case, his departure was Labour's fault -- in this instance for allowing its white, liberal membership to  squander the talents of a uniquely gifted leader.

But no one owed Jones any glory. He's intelligent and articulate and he was brought into politics by the modern Labour Party's most important broker of influence, Helen Clark. He had every chance, but he lacked the focus and discipline to harness his gifts and opportunities.

Danyl McLauchlan draws the other side of Jones in a short, pointed I-told-you-so post:

The press gallery – with its usual acumen – decided that speaking like an eccentric Victorian-era Oxford don meant that Jonesy was ‘connecting with working class kiwis’. I never saw any evidence of this. Jones performed poorly as an electorate candidate during multiple elections: actual voters were never as impressed with him as the gallery were. During the Labour leadership campaign Jones’ support among Maori voters was only 37% – which strikes me as shockingly low, considering they’re being offered the chance to endorse a contender for first Maori Prime Minister. It reflects – I suspect – Jonsey’s incredibly low support among female voters across the board.

For good measure, he writes off Jones as "an undisciplined, waffling misogynist who probably cost [Labour] more votes than he ever won."

Both sides of Shane Jones have been on display this year. On the one hand, his work in making the Countdown supermarkets' business practices an issue has been textbook Opposition politics. On the other, his pointless, destructive attacks on the Green Party actively hampered Labour in looking like a prospective government.

It is now evident that through all this he was considering his exit. He was clever enough to feed Matthew Hooton the suggestion that he had his eye on New Zealand First, to see how that played, but I don't think this was all calculation. In the end, he wanted out. He had concerns that he might not fare well in this year's party list and, I gather, personal reasons for reconsidering the hurly-burly of politics.

The pundits are as one today in their analysis of how bad this is for Labour (and, if you couldn't guess, it's all Labour's fault, because it always is). But there's one huge, wild piece of luck in in this for the party. The next candidate on the list is Kelvin Davis.

Like Jones, Davis is northern Maori. He's an authentic bloke. But he's not the reserve Shane Jones coming off the bench. He's smart, sensitive, disciplined and understands and wants to be part of the Labour Party story. He hasn't put a foot wrong since he got the news last night, and his interview on Morning Report today was fascinating. And no part of it was more so than the way he concluded it.

When Dover Samuels' claims about Jones' connection with "middle New Zealand" were put to him, he acknowledged similarities: "they talk about red-blooded men, and I'm into sports and standing around in a bar drinking with blokes and things like that ..."

But I have to say one of the big things that I want to achieve in Parliament is to raise the awareness and help to stop violence of any sort -- sexual, physical, emotional violence --- against our women and children. This was brought on by the Roastbusters scandal and the sexual abuse that's been going on in the far north. And I've been sitting here thinking for the last couple of months that if I should get back into Parliament I really want to make a stand and make a difference and say this is how we as males need to behave towards our women.

On a morning when mere punditry is everywhere, it was a thing of real substance to say. Yes, it was also adept in light of Labour politics, but I think he actually meant it. Labour can't do much about the pundits for now, but what it can do is not make the mistake of failing to accord Kelvin Davis a list placing that assures that he will be returned to Parliament. It really is that clear and simple.

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