Former Labour Minister and current Special Ambassador to the Pacific for Economic Development, Shane Jones, is now believed to have agreed to stand for NZ First in Whangarei at this year’s election.
Close friends of Jones say he has made his mind up to re-enter politics.
He would have an uphill struggle winning the Whangarei seat held by Naitonal’s Shane Reti with a 13,169 vote majority, but Jones’ importance would be to give real political heft to New Zealand First.
57-year-old Jones was a Minister in the Clark Government, and after unsuccessfully contesting the Labour leadership in 2011 he left Parliament and was appointed by Foreign Minister, Murray McCully to his current role.
Jones was on the right of the Labour caucus and was closely associated with MPs like Stuart Nash and David Shearer.
In a New Zealand First caucus, he could be expected to be a strong advocate for regional development policies.
But perhaps, more importantly, National would see him as a moderating influence on Winston Peters and therefore someone with whom they could do business.
His presence would raise one challenge, and that is whether Ron Mark would have to make way for him as deputy leader.
Jones has the charisma to succeed Peters as leader.
Peters himself has been relatively low key over the summer break, but it is clear he is defining New Zealand First as the provincial party.
Before Christmas, he did an almost continuous series of public meetings in small centres.
And yesterday he managed to link the low attendance at the Wellington Sevens to problems for the provinces caused by health and safety restrictions on race meetings.
“Wellington Sevens used to have sell-out crowds, people let their hair down and had a lot of fun, but since Draconian security measures were introduced, no-one wants to go,” he said.
“Now we’re being told having fun like that is wrong.
“Provincial NZ is feeling the brunt too of the heavy-handed approach.
Race days are being killed off through excessive restrictions, and the ‘Fun Police’ did a brilliant job of ruining Toast Martinborough for a lot of the public a few months back.
“The solution is to bring back the drunk and disorderly law – the Police Offences Act 1927 – which stated anyone drunk in a public place committed an offence.
“We would ensure organisers have security to enforce the law against this small number of reprobates who are ruining the fun for communities all over the country.”
But Jones’ decision is just one of two moves which make National’s chances of forming the next Government much stronger.
It was abundantly clear at Ratana last week that the Maori Party and Kingitanga are now allies and that the Maori Party’s relations with Labour continue to deteriorate.
Labour Leader Andrew Little says “the Maori Party is effectively the Maori branch of the National Party and they have let Maori down>”
Little disputes that the relationship between Labour and Ratana is fading and says the party has spent a lot of time “strengthening the relationship with Ratana over the past year”.
Maori Party Co-Leader Te Ururroa Flavell argues that that the relationship wouldn’t stand the test of time and that the intense loyalty from the Ratana people to Labour had ended.
But the Maori Party does face some challenges.
Morgan has said that with its electoral deal with Hone Harawira’s mana Party he expects to win a number of seats off Labour.
It has always been assumed one of those would be Hauraki – Waikato currently held by Labour MP, Nanaia Mahuta.
That is because it was also assumed that Mahuta would leave Parliament to take up a full time position, possibly with the Maniapoto ruananga once it completes its Treaty negotiations this year for which she is the chief negotiator.
But last week she said: “I will be standing as the candidate for Hauraki-Waikato for Labour.
“I’ve thought about it over a long period of time – obviously there has been a lot of speculation but what I know is we need a change of government to ensure that the basic inequities that exist in New Zealand are reversed.”
And hopes that the Maori Party had that Ratana would follow Kingitanga and break with the Labour Party have also been dashed with Ratana secretary Piri Rurawhe (whose brother is a Labour MP) committing again to the relationship with Labour at Ratana last week.
But National may have a new weapon in its battle to keep the Maori Party on side.
The new Prime Minister, Bill English, impressed Ratana with a three minute ad-lib speech in Te Reo and it is noteworthy this Waitangi weekend that not only will he meet the Iwi Leadership Forum at Waitangi on Friday but on Waitangi day itself, he will be at a breakfast with Ngati Whatua — an iwi who have settled their claims and have got on with becoming entrepreneurial property developers in Auckland. (amidst other things)
National is pitching itself at Maori success whereas Labour continues to pitch to Maori deprivation.
There’s no doubt that there are massive differences between NZ First and the maori Party over what NZ First calls “separatism” such as the iwi particiaption provisions in the Resource Legislation Ammendment Bill yet NZ First has six Maori MPs.
But what links both Shane Jones and the Maori Party in an ironic way is their lack of comfort with Labour’s current direction.
In the case of Maori Party President, Tuku Morgan, and to a lesser extent Jones, that objection to where Labour is now is quite visceral.
However, it may well prove to be the single most important factor in deciding who forms the next Government.