And then ... along comes Jones
A long-anticipated announcement is expected this afternoon – Shane Jones to be confirmed as NZ First's candidate in Northland.
NZ First leader Winston Peters confirmed this week he would make the candidate announcement at 1pm today, although he stopped short of naming Mr Jones.
NZ First wants to have another attempt at taking the safe National seat which Shane Reti held for the party in 2014 with a decent majority.
The buzz around the former Labour MP's move back into politics follows his retirement as New Zealand’s ambassador for Pacific economic development.
At the time he stepped down from that role, speculation rose over his candidacy for New Zealand First at this year's general election.
Rumours on this have waxed and waned ever since. Mr Jones was a Labour MP from 2002 to 2014 but found the atmosphere within Labour increasingly uncongenial.
He has been close to New Zealand First leader and Northland MP Winston Peters for a long time. They share a north of Auckland base, not to mention a breezily, not particularly politically correct approach to politics.
Both, too, are rarities in today’s political scene: a mix of natural media friendliness and, even rarer, an ability to actually deliver old fashioned, stem-winding political oratory.
Mr Jones’ return to Parliament, on a high place on the NZ First list, would have an intriguing ripple effect.
Ripples, certainly, within the NZ First caucus, who would find his elevation above them like having to swallow hemlock.
Certainly, deputy Ron Mark is not expected to be killing the fatted calf to welcome Mr Jones, who is, like Mr Peters, one of politics’ big beasts and whose return would almost definitely be as Mr Peters’ heir.
It is by no means certain Mr Jones would want to take on such a difficult, potentially troublesome and certainly time-consuming task.
But he has been telling key people to watch for an announcement after he leaves his ambassadorship role.
Political commentator Matthew Hooton opined three years ago about Mr Jones joining NZ First. At the time he said "more significantly – assuming Mr Jones could win the support of the party’s caucus and board – Mr Peters, who will be 72 at the 2017 election, would pass the NZ First leadership to Mr Jones, who would be 59. Mr Peters would have the satisfaction of seeing the party he established more than 20 years ago live beyond his time in politics.
"For his part, Mr Jones would get to lead a medium-sized force in New Zealand politics, with an already-established infrastructure, able to deal with left or right. Its first leader would have been ex-National and its second ex-Labour. How centrist can you get?"