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Gordon Campbell on the Shane Jones concept

Gordon Campbell on the Shane Jones concept

First published on Werewolf

Since Shane Jones has never really existed, the media felt it necessary to invent him. Meet Jonesy, the rough diamond politico with the superhero powers of communication with working class Kiwi males! As Danyl McLauchlan indicated a few years ago, the media has fallen harder for its own creation than the voters have ever done. It’s understandable. For a while there, Shane Jones seemed like a walking slice of blokey Kiwiana. There were murmurs about him becoming Labour leader, and our first Maori Prime Minister.

In reality, Labour’s working class hero was anything but a champion of the battlers. While in Parliament, he was the attack dog for his corporate cronies in Sealords against the company’s environmental critics. In the dying days of the Clark government, he was Labour’s ministerial go-between for a high profile immigration decision involving a wealthy Chinese migrant and party donor. (Hardly the best credentials for a future New Zealand First MP.) Despite the Greens being the only realistic ally that Labour had in forming an alternative government of the centre left, Jones spent almost as much time in publicly attacking them as he did in attacking the National government, which eventually rewarded him with a cushy bureaucratic job. Female voters have always shunned him. Now he’s back, standing for New Zealand First in Whangarei, and looking for his next ride on the gravy train.

Yet… the media are also back at it, and are still touting the magic sympatico that Jones allegedly has with the voters.

Please, no. There’s never been any ballot box evidence of this pixie dust. Jones entered Parliament in 2005 on the Labour list. He stood (unsuccessfully) for Labour in Northland in 2008 but was rescued again by his list position. In 2011, he lost to Pita Sharples in Tamaki Makaurau, and was rescued once again by the party list. When the Labour leadership came up for grabs in 2013, Jones came in third and last place of the three candidates on offer. Only months before the last election, Jones resigned from Labour to take up National’s kind offer of a well-paying sinecure. (So much for blokey loyalty to his mates.)

In sum, there’s absolutely no evidence to support the theory of Shane Jones, blue-collar hero and irresistible vote magnet. For that reason alone New Zealand First would be wise to exercise caution about vaulting him into the deputy leadership. For all his foibles, at least Ron Mark is a case of truth in packaging. With Jones, its more like what you see is what he gets. And since these days, Jones looks more like a National Party stalking horse, the NZF rank and file would be wise to treat him as such.

Whangarei will be a useful test of Jones’ ability on the stump. After fighting two elections in the seat, NZF’s Pita Paraone still came in fourth in 2014 (behind the Greens candidate) with only a distant 8% of the electorate vote, as compared to the 55% won by National’s Shane Reti. Paraone did a bit better on the party vote, increasing the NZF share in 2014 to 13.36%, but still well behind National’s 50% share. At this point, Jones’ best chance of winning Whangarei would seem to be if National quietly sent a signal to its supporters to vote for him and not for Reti, the ostensible party candidate. They’ve done it before. Remember Wellington Central in 1996, when National sunk its own candidate in order to advance the cause of Richard Prebble?

There are other implications. Given Jones’ track record of animosity to the Greens, this should finally put paid to the hopes still being entertained (in some parts of the centre-left) of a Labour/Greens/New Zealand First alternative government. The air kisses that Andrew Little has been sending to Jones in recent days (eg praising him for the ‘intellectual grunt’ he will supposedly bring to NZF) won’t change that reality. Winston Peters was never going to play third wheel in any such centre-left arrangement, and with Jones now set to cruise back into Parliament via a high ranking on the NZF party list, the Greens’ chances of playing a major role in any alternative government would now appear slim to non-existent.

At this point, the most credible chance of a change of government would be if a Labour/NZF pairing can get the numbers to enter into a formal coalition with the Greens situated outside government, but lending support on confidence and supply. For the Greens, this would mean propping up a new government that on issues like law and order, welfare and immigration would be barely distinguishable from the current government. It would also leave the Greens scrambling for a few gains on the environment – provided such measures would be OK with Shane Jones.

Meanwhile back in the real world, Jones will already be lobbying Peters hard to use his kingmaker status to support Jones’ new mates in the National Party. Because that’s the kind of working class hero he is.

Whistling

Dog whistling your real intentions to voters while retaining the deniability that you’ve done any such thing has always been a useful political skill in politics. Musically, whistling has also had its moments… This 1940s track by the Sons of the Pioneers has some sterling whistling… and it's a semi-serious example of the sort of lumberjack serenading celebrated by the Monty Python crew:

And from the late 1960s, here’s Johnnie Allan with a fine whistling example of Louisiana swamp rock. The track was recorded in Ville Platte, Louisiana, in the heart of Cajun country; the town markets itself as the “Smoked Meat Capital of the World” as well as having been officially recognized by the Louisiana state legislature as the world’s “swamp pop capital”.


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