How New Zealand First have shot themselves in the foot with Shane Jones
With just over two months to go before New Zealanders head to the polls, the New Zealand First Party are having a dream run: Labour are in disarray, National's credibility is under attack, and with immigration becoming a central issue in the campaign, the stars seem to be aligning for Winston Peters.
Or at least, that was the case until the announcement that former Labour Party minister Shane Jones was to be the party's candidate for the electorate of Whangarei.
For the record, Shane Jones is an excellent politician. I remember when he stepped down from Parliament in 2014 to take on a sinecure position created for him by the National Party, I commented that it was the departure of the only Labour MP for whom I still had an iota of respect.
Indeed, in 2013 I had hoped he would win Labour's leadership contest. My dislike of David Cunliffe is stuff of legend (he was the first politician to ever lie straight to my face), while the hip urban liberal Grant Robertson was an illustration of everything wrong with the modern Labour Party. Shane Jones was the only one with even a vague understanding of ordinary blue collar New Zealand.
Thus on the surface, you can see why the mainstream media, and those not intimately familiar with New Zealand First, might consider Jones a good fit. He's a Maori from the north, socially conservative, an unpretentious ordinary every man.
And while some commentators have alleged that the scandal for which he is most famous, and which earned him the monicker "Minister of Porn" might alienate him to some voters - especially females - the reality is that the kinds of people likely to be offended by a man watching hotel room porn are probably not the kinds of people who would vote for NZ First anyway. (As an aside, when I was 18 I happened to be working in the hotel where this infamous incident occurred at the time that it occurred and I am therefore one of the few people out there who knows precisely which pornographic movies Mr. Jones purchased. I'm not going to divulge because frankly I don't care.)
All things considered, you'd think that Shane Jones - with his Ministerial experience, financial connections, charismatic personality and blue collar political views would be an asset for New Zealand First. But unfortunately, you'd be wrong.
Shane Jones is not without positive attributes - his ability to appeal to urban Maori, especially in Northland, could pose a real threat to the Maori Party, the Mana Party and indeed the Labour Party. There is every chance that if he can convince Maori voters in Whangarei to register on the general roll, rather than the Maori roll, he could well defeat National's lacklustre backbench MP Shane Reti.
For better or for worse, Shane Jones is the closest thing that NZ First has to a repeat of Tau Henare and the Tight Five and may be able to gain for NZ First the large swathes of Maori support that have been lost since 1996.
Unfortunately this is almost certain to come at the expense of soft-National voters uncomfortable with the government's relationship with the Maori Party, who were thinking of switching to NZ First.
Less than 48 hours into his candidacy, Jones has already openly defied party policy - declaring his support for a lower Maori retirement age, race-based scholarships, Maori wards and Maori seats. This will be alarming to conservative voters, who NZ First needs to win off National if it seriously hopes to become a 'Kingmaker'.
He's unlikely to win any Labour voters who haven't already gone over to NZ First, while a significant proportion of the political left (as well as the nationalist right) are now less likely to vote for NZ First with Jones due to his previous support of the TPPA and the perception that he has a an uncomfortably close relationship with international finance. Furthermore, Jones' was also quoted in 2011 as supporting the sale of state assets in an article which has mysteriously disappeared from the NZ Herald's servers.
Finally his role in the Bill Liu saga is not going to endear him to NZ First's rank-and-file core support base, who were counting on the party to stand up to various dodgy immigration policies - in fact it undermines Winston Peters' recent statements condemning the Peter Thiel citizenship and could potentially undermine Peters' credibility.
From my vantage point, the decision to stand Shane Jones as a candidate could well be the biggest own-goal that NZ First have scored so far on the campaign trail.
With NZ First currently polling at around 9% and likely to gain a further 5% as the campaign continues (if the trend of previous elections is to be believed), there's still every possibility of them winding up as the third largest party and scoring a record high result. However, with the official opposition in the state that it's in, NZ First had every opportunity to overtake the Labour Party this election - and I think that the selection of Shane Jones may well dampen this possibility.
Finally, if you still don't believe that Shane Jones is alienating rank-and-file NZ First members, I'd like to post a screenshot from my Facebook timeline (edited to protect people's privacy). This is a very small selection of hundreds of similar posts and comments I've been seeing for the last two days: