Shane Jones' candidacy already creating controversy in NZ First
By Richard Harman (author)
The worst-kept political secret of the year will be out of the bag this afternoon in a Whangarei restaurant in Whangarei when Shane Jones announces his candidacy for the seat for NZ First.
But already it is provoking controversy within the party.
Last night the Facebook site, “Never Shane” set up by some party members earlier this year to oppose his candidacy was claiming he had had to get special dispensation from the party's board to stand.
The site said: “While this is entirely within the rights of the board, we think it's disgraceful that members' concerns were ignored - including those of some board members.”
NZ First’s constitution allows the board to grant dispensation to candidates who have not been members for the required six months.
Because Jones has been working as Special Economic Ambassador to the Pacific for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade he has been free to join a political party only since the end of last month.
NZ First Leader, Winston Peters, last night told POLITIK that when people made statements like those on Facebook they didn’t know “what on earth they are talking about.”
“I do not intend to give them the oxygen of respectability by making up for their appalling ignorance about how our constitution works which is being followed to the letter.”
Whangarei is currently held by National’s Dr Shane Reti with a 13169 majority at the last election.
But Jones knows he has got negligible chance of winning the seat and instead will be aiming at a high place on NZ First’s list.
National officials say they are confident Reti can hold the seat and that he is popular with the electorate albeit that he has a relatively low profile in Wellington.
The announcement of the former Labour Minister’s candidacy will be important for NZ First because it will bring more credibility to the party and make it look less like a one man band.
This could come at the price of some internal instability, not only over his actual candidacy but also over his own place in the party.
First though. the first big question that will raise will be what impact Jones could have on any Government formation talks NZ First might be involved in.
Jones will be emphasising regional development policies in his pitch for Whangarei. He believes in the role that state investment can play to kick off job-creating industries in the regions.
He is also a strong critic of the restrictions that the Resource Management Act places on establishing industries like aqua culture in his own region.
His approach to these industry-creation industries is to argue that they can create jobs for otherwise unemployed young Maori.
In that sense, he is nearer Labour.
But he retains his discomfiture with the current Labour leadership and politically correct wing of the party and remains close to MPs like David Parker, Clayton Cosgrove and Stuart Nash, all of whom oppose identity politics.
He is unlikely to forget that the party as a whole rejected his leadership bid in 2013.
From his time in Government, he keeps in touch with retired Labour politicians like Dover Samuels and Rick Barker, both permanent residents on Labour’s right wing.
At the same time Jones has some close links to several National Party MPs; particularly the retiring Foreign Minister, Murray McCully who appointed him Pacific Economic Ambassador after he resigned from Labour after his unsuccessful bid for the leadership.
While he was filling that role the former Prime Minister, John Key, also developed a relationship with him.
What seems clear is that he will fit comfortably within NZ First.
He is a social conservative; he wants to see the Government play an activist role in the economy, he has argued against current immigration levels, and he is concerned about the way China has been able to make inroads in the South Pacific fishing zones.
Like Winston Peters he is Ngapuhi. He is fluent in Te Reo and has a web of connections within Maoridom from his days as Chair of Te Ohu Kaimoana.
But he also has a host of Pakeha contacts and his annual Waitangi Day party this year included lobbyists from the banks and other big corporates as well as many well-known figures from the fishing industry.
Tthe most difficult challenge he brings NZ First is an internal one.
He is close to Peters and Pita Paraone and Fletcher Tabuteau but does not seem to have been particularly engaged with the other MPs, in particular, deputy-leader, Ron Mark.
Mark is currently deputy leader, a position that Peters surely would prefer to have Jones in.
Those are questions however for the next Parliament.
In the meantime, Jones and Peters will need to shut their dissident Facebook members up.