On TV3, Patrick Gower broke the news: ‘Shane Jones to leave Labour, set to work with Murray McCully’. For a moment, like a lot things to do with Shane, I thought it was a joke. But no. As Paddy breathlessly reported, “Shane Jones is quitting Parliament and the Labour Party, and there is a job already lined up for him – a job offer from the National Government. Nothing is signed and sealed, but the job is as ‘Pacific Economic Ambassador’ – a position created by Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully. Prime Minister John Key is also aware of the job offer’.
On some level, it reeked of dastardly, political skulduggery. In the NZ Herald, Claire Trevett awarded ‘the Nobel Prize for rat cunning in neutralising an enemy force’ to Foreign Minister Murray McCully. ‘The Prince of Darkness is back in business’ Gower exclaimed. ‘That master of the dark arts of politics Murray McCully has pulled an almighty swifty on Labour with a dodgy deal to get Shane Jones out of Parliament and working for National. In layman’s terms “McCully-avelli”, as I call him, has kicked David Cunliffe right between the legs where it hurts. It is rat-cunning backroom politics and McCully and John Key would have been high-fiving when they landed Jones. Yet this “Pacific Economic Ambassador” role McCully has created for Jones needs to be called for what it is – dodgy as. It is a good job and one Jones could not resist – McCully made him an offer he knew Jones couldn’t refuse. But make no mistake – it is a complete and utter jack-up done primarily to hurt Labour.’
But all is fair in love and politics. The dodginess was not so much in the offer than the acceptance. If you can take out the opposition with cushy job offers, why wouldn’t you? It’s nothing less than we have come to expect from National. Spot the high profile malcontent. Tell him what he wants to hear. Offer him a job. Good money. Bob’s your uncle. Or in this case, Shane.
Shane Jones. In the Herald on Sunday, Jonathan Milne called him ‘a flawed man’ and the first to admit it : ‘A booze-drinking, porn-viewing, wife-cheating, frustrated Kiwi bloke. But he also has a devil-may-care candour that will be missed from politics. And when this Kiwi bloke walked away from Labour this week, he may have taken thousands more voters just like him.’ On Stuff, Vernon Small said ‘ If things could get any worse than the cluster failure around Shane Jones’ sudden departure to work for a government he was supposed to want out of office, it is hard to see what they could be…Jones pulled the pin, walked out of the caucus room and tossed the grenade over his shoulder’.’ The Herald’s John Armstrong felt Jones’ resignation couldn’t have come at a worse time. His ‘shock decision to quit as a Labour MP will lead voters to draw one conclusion and one conclusion only: that he thinks Labour cannot win the September general election. His departure is close to an unmitigated disaster for Labour’.
Really? For sure, twenty weeks from an election, disunity is not a good look. The spotlight should be on the failings of the Government and what the Left plans to do about them and Jones’ headline-grabbing decision doesn’t help. Having said that, it’s hard to disagree with Stuff’s editorial: ‘While there will undoubtedly be glee in National circles at having caused such disarray within Labour, Jones’s virtues should not be exaggerated. For all his high education (like David Cunliffe, he is a product of the distinguished Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University) and undoubted business expertise (he was chairman of Sealord), his political career was less than stellar. He caused deep embarrassment to the Labour Party with his grubby misuse of a ministerial credit card and twice was stood down from office. He was cleared of any misconduct over an immigration matter, but the report of an inquiry into it did not give much confidence in his diligence in handling his portfolio. His facility with two languages was enviable but at times the suspicion arose that it simply gave him the opportunity to spout nonsense in both of them. He was once spoken of as a future prime minister, but in the end, for all his capacity at raising a rhetorical fuss, his political achievements were not great’.
His political liabilities however were numerous and, in his recent attacks on the Greens, ever more so. As Metiria Turei was quoted in the Herald, “I don’t think that Shane has a grip on his emotions and I think that he lets fly regardless of whether it’s sensible or not.” The difficulty for Jones was that, even under a best-case scenario, he would end up serving in a Government with the Greens and under Russel Norman. It was not a prospect to which he was prepared to devote his time and talent. As far as he was concerned, he was bigger than that and better than that and, typically, Shane was not backward in coming forward to tell everyone about it.
He did the political talk shows over the weekend. If he was trying to frame his actions in terms of political conscience, many viewers were unconvinced. ‘Judas’ and ‘Narcissist’ were two themes commonly expressed by those texting in. They felt Jones was bigger than that and better than that. Turns out he wasn’t. When the going got tough, Shane got going.
In the NZ Herald, Claire Trevett pondered how Labour, ‘struggling to prove it can still connect with middle New Zealand’ would keep up without Jones. She quotes deputy leader David Parker: ‘just because Jones has gone, what he stood for had not. He said fighting against inequality and on behalf of workers had been part of Labour’s ethos for almost 100 years. It had managed to express them before Jones and would manage to do so after Jones’. No one is indispensable. No messenger, however ‘colourful’ is bigger than the message.
Of the man himself, Trevett writes an obituary of sorts. ‘He was anointed by the media to begin with, crucified by the media when he stuffed up, and then built up again. Most politicians look forward to getting away from that level of scrutiny but it is no real surprise that Jones says the sudden absence of it is the thing he is most worried about adjusting to. “Anyone who has been out there in public and seeks affirmation of their political ideas and personal attributes, once the curtain comes down; I have to tell the truth. One of the issues I had to ask myself was can I make that transition and not be miserable?” He still doesn’t seem certain he can. But he shrugs and says attention has already turned to his successor and good friend, Kelvin Davis. “I’m not even gone yet and Kelvin’s bought a new suit, is polishing his shoes and saying ‘I am now the dog and Shane is the tree’.” In his own mind, a mighty Totara no doubt.
Trevett concludes Jones leaves a big hole. A-hole is probably closer to the mark.