Cognito: Et tu, Jonesy?

23 April 2014

He manu aute e taea te whakahoro*

It’s no secret that Labour MP Shane Jones hasn’t been happy for some time.  He made it clear he didn’t want to spend three more years in opposition, and irrespective of what Labour says, the electorate will see his move as a jump from a sinking waka.

Jones has been effective, vocal and in the headlines – something that David Cunliffe has not been able to achieve consistently, despite the momentum created when he became leader and more recently, gained the support of those who opposed him.

Jones has been spearheading Labour’s economic development drive – especially in energy – and his efforts to assure the business community of a balanced view towards the resource sector not only put him offside with the Green Party, but also with many in his own caucus.

While he wasn’t the only energy development supporter in the party, he was certainly a strong advocate and his departure leaves the likes of David Parker, David Shearer and Clayton Cosgrove in a much weaker position against the green influence.  The loss of Jones signals a more likely move to ‘no’ as the starting point to any resource development debate.

Jones’ departure also gives the Māori party an opportunity to regain its raison d'être. There is no one in Labour with the personality, capability or experience to replace his influence amongst Māori, and the loss of this very senior Māori MP sends a poor message to an increasingly alienated constituency.

For the wider New Zealand public, there is a bigger question. If the party can’t keep one of its stars, what can it offer New Zealanders generally, as an alternative government?

There will be some in Labour lamenting the loss of Shane Jones because they understand the electoral impact of the move.  There are, however, probably those that will be secretly happy to be rid of someone who didn’t fit with the hard left of the party.  It is that sort of short-sightedness that will cost Labour the next election.

National must be finding it hard to contain itself at the moment.  It’s hard to tell if the much discussed job offer was a master stroke by National or just plain old opportunism, but the Government will dine out on this and will certainly use the loss of one of Labour’s great pragmatists to reinforce the spectre it has conjured of a left-dominated, Labour-Green coalition.

When people say elections are won and lost in middle New Zealand, they’re not talking about the die-hard supporters who are on auto pilot in the polling booth.  They’re talking about the voters who have no preferred party, but will vote for the leader they like and a policy mix that sounds reasonable.

This is the ground that John Key seems to own at the moment and Jones’ departure only confirms that.

*A kite which, when slackened off, flies away.

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