Phil Quin on the resurgence of Shane Jones


Phil Quin thinks there is much to like about Shane Jones, and believes that he may well be the reason Labour will get re-elected: Quote.

If Shane Jones didn’t exist, Jacinda Ardern would do well to invent him. Bear with me here.

More than New Zealand First itself, and certainly more than Winston Peters whose foreign affairs role largely shields him from domestic politics, Shane Jones is one minister whose voice adds considerable value to the Government and its prospects.

And yet it wouldn’t take a visiting Martian five minutes to pick up the hostility towards Jones among large segments of New Zealand’s media and political elite, such as they are.

Look at the the sneering response that greeted Jones’?campaign against Air New Zealand?s regional airport closures. If you took social media consensus at face value ? spoiler alert: you shouldn’t ? it’s as if Jones committed some unpardonable political sin by criticising the national carrier for abandoning communities he represents. Some of the reaction was especially revealing since,?when it comes to corporate wrongdoing,?the New Zealand commentariat aren’t usually as deferential when it comes to the Cabinet Manual or the intricate workings of the Companies Act.

By taking on Air New Zealand, Jones was doing the Government’s bidding in a way none of his colleagues could quite muster. And yet the personal animosity towards Jones blinds most pundits and Labour colleagues to that fact; instead, their dismissive condescension towards him feels a lot like p?kehasplaining.

Jones’?critics habitually address him as if he is clueless on fairly basic issues of political and corporate probity, ignoring the fact no minister in the Government enjoys more experience or greater credibility with the business community. And who can forget the unending chorus that Jones is “lazy” ? far from the least racist thing you will read today.

Since becoming minister, Jones has been a tireless champion of regional economic development. This area of focus has long been absent from the New Zealand discourse, probably as a reaction to Muldoon-era policies directed at provincial voters that could be most generously characterised as “graft?adjacent”.

As often happens in politics, Labour and National overlearned the lesson ? and regional parts of the country have suffered as a consequence. Jones is tackling this in a way no other politician has managed to over the past few decades. This is not only meritorious in and of itself, but it promises to greatly assist the coalition’s re-election chances.

The Nats are showing themselves no less oblivious to Jones’?persona and agenda than the p?kehasplaining Left. But he is showing them up with an agenda aimed at fomenting innovation and skills, while modernising infrastructure in long neglected towns. This promises to deliver desirable social and economic outcomes, most critically, secure, well-paid jobs ? especially for M?ori.

Any government that can express and implement a vision that stresses the need for all parts of New Zealand to share in our national prosperity will enter the next campaign on a strong footing.

The truth is, Labour has lost the vocabulary and instincts needed to make this argument on its own. They may not like Shane Jones the caricature, but they need him as the most compelling voice for an economic platform the Government can define and make their own; one that abandons bloodless Treasury assumptions in favour of nation-building and expanding the net of opportunity.

The recent Budget, perfectly adequate for a first-year Labour government, nevertheless illustrates the problem Jones helps solve. The narrative was almost exclusively centred on boosting existing social programmes as well as access to services like social housing, schools and hospitals. All of this is to be welcomed. But voters whose choice is determined by such concerns are already entrenched in the Labour camp.

To secure a second term, the Labour-NZF-Green coalition needs a broader story that encompasses geographic and demographic corners that Labour has found especially tricky to reach in recent times.

By merging disparate but complementary strengths, this could well become the most collaborative and functional coalition government since the advent of MMP. But this will only happen when the p?kehasplainers on the urban left start to see New Zealand First, and Shane Jones, not as a problem to be managed, but as an indispensable ally in attaining their shared political and policy goals. End of quote.

Many in Labour consider Shane Jones is a turncoat for selling out to John Key and taking a cushy job before resurrecting his political career as a NZ First MP and then minister. They resent that and will go out of their way to ankle tap him if they can.

If Jones can dial back the bombast he may well deliver something meaningful. Labour then run the risk of alienating him and NZ First and giving them cause to seek other partners. The departure of the people behind the backstabbing of Winston Peters puts National back in play.