Jones put in his place – Whangarei

One of the biggest talking points after Shane Jones joined NZ First officially was whether there would be a clash of egos between Jones and Winston Peters.

NZ First has long been seen as Winston First, and any attention seeking competitors a distant second if they are able to survive a Peters excommunication.

Tracey Watkins asks: Does NZ First need Shane Jones? Can he and Winston Peters get along?

Jones is back from the political dead after what must be one of the longest political courtships ever. When Jones quit Labour in 2014 he was seething with unfulfilled political ambition and he only left because he knew he had hit the ceiling. Even before he left there was talk of him hooking up with Peters.

Jones is back with NZ First for the same reason he left Labour – unfulfilled ambition. Like Peters, Jones has long harboured a dream to be the first Maori Prime Minister. Both of them can’t make it.

They both can’t be first but it’s possible both of them could make it to Prime Minister, Peters next term and after he retires Jones could get there a term or two later if he successfully takes over the leadership of NZ First.

It’s also the first serious move by Peters to give NZ First a future beyond his own political lifespan. It’s always been assumed that NZ First would die with Peters. That never looked to worry the NZ First leader. Tapping Jones, with his obvious ambition, is a shot at keeping the legacy alive.

But it’s risky because Peters is not used to sharing a stage. He’s never had to. Peters’ personality has always been big enough to carry the party on its own. He’s shed more MPs than some people have lost socks – some of them big personalities like Tau Henare – and never missed a beat because NZ First has always been Winston First.

If Peters retires but stays involved he may anoint Jones as successor, but his power in the party will diminish over time.

And Jones has been given the hard word by Peters that he’s not living the diplomatic high life any more. Don’t wait for people to knock on your door, get out and knock on their door, is the message that’s been delivered to Jones. Time for some hard graft, in other words.

Peters also did some legwork himself before naming Jones. There is understood to have been a dinner with local business people and Whangarei leaders to sound them out before he made up his mind to stand Jones in the seat. Those business leaders made it clear Jones would have to pull out all the stops to be taken seriously.

That message has been delivered down the line to Jones. The clear inference is that Jones should stay in his neck of the woods, in Whangarei, and leave the national stage to Peters.

Peters has made sure, in other words, that Jones has got something to prove in Whangarei, where there is a clear expectation he do well.

So it looks like Peters is trying to ring fence Jones in Whangarei.

Hard slog in an electorate and succeeding in an electorate campaign are not things Jones has managed in his political life with Labour.

Peters is giving Jones an opportunity to take over NZ First, but it seems that Jones first has to prove his mettle, confined within one electorate.

How Jones will cope with curbing his ambitions, both behind the scenes and publicly, will be an interesting aspect of the campaign.

1 Comment

  1. Give him a wet day on the electioneering front, a credit card, an open bar and a hotel room with full SKY, and I’m not seeing a raincoat and umbrella winning the toss.