NZ POLITICS DAILY: Will Shane Jones be NZ First’s Trump card?
Shane Jones wants to “Put New Zealand First Again.” That was the Trump-esque slogan on the baseball cap that he wore to announce he was standing for Winston Peters’ populist party. There is no doubt NZ First is on a roll at the moment, and it is clearly hoping to capitalise on the revival of populism and anti-Establishment feeling throughout the world.
Could Shane Jones make himself great again as New Zealand’s Trump?
The notion of New Zealand First benefiting from the changing ideological winds being felt around the world at the moment is picked up on by Toby Manhire: “NZ First has had heaven-sent political weather in 2017. Electoral tumult in Europe and America illustrate that something-in-the air that Jones was singing about today – and for anyone not keeping up, Jones layered it on by sporting a cap wearing ‘New Zealand First Again’.” – see: Shane Jones joins Winston Peters and NZ First: genius or jeopardy?
Jones referred to the changing global atmosphere in his announcement speech on Friday: “I was coming here this morning and a mate of mine put on a song, ‘There’s Something in the Air’. And you know as well as I do, there’s something in the air. It’s been sensed by voters in America. It’s been sensed by voters in Australia. Voters in the EU. Voters all around the world.”
Manhire suggests NZ First will rise further: “The latest RNZ poll of polls puts NZ First at 9.4%; in May 2014 it was 5.1%, which grew into an election result of 8.7%. In the three months to come, the barnstorming Peters-Jones double act is designed to lift the party’s vote to unscaled heights, beyond even the 1996 record of 13.5% – leaving the Green Party in their wake. Closing in, even, on the Labour Party.”
Jones has some characteristics in common with Trump, which is why I said on Friday: "Shane Jones is quite a campaigner, he's bombastic, he's eccentric, he's got this ability I think to be New Zealand's Trump” – see TVNZ’s NZ First's Shane Jones has 'ability to be New Zealand's Donald Trump' – political commentator.
In contrast to this, NBR’s Rob Hosking writes today that, although Jones is making a pitch to be New Zealand’s Trump, “that anti-establishment pitch is perhaps the central oddity about the whole thing. Mr Jones is the ultimate political insider. He has just completed a role in a plum diplomatic posting, one at the gift of the National government. What's more, his return to politics has been a matter of widespread political insider gossip for a couple of years now” – see: Shane Jones: How good a fit is he with NZ First, really? (paywalled).
Hosking suggests media-based commentary about Jones actually goes against the grain of the anti-establishment mood: “If there is any New Zealand edition of the recent anti-establishment mood in Western democracies, it seems to be at least as much aimed at the news media and the insider approach to political commentary as it is at the politicians themselves. Voters in the US and UK have recently blown loud electoral raspberries when they have been repeatedly told who is and is not an attractive candidate by political commentators. It's a constant theme of the commentary around Mr Jones that he has widespread popular appeal. This may turn out to be true. But as yet there is no evidence of it.”
Jones’ anti-liberal appeal to the provinces
Although Jones comes from a Labour Party background, his uneasiness with Labour’s more socially liberal elements has been well canvassed in the past. According to Richard Harman, Jones “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” – see: Shane Jones' candidacy already creating controversy in NZ First.
Harman says Jones is a good fit with 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.”
Similar to Trump, Jones will position himself and his party as the defender of those hurt by globalisation, and other economic issues, and will combine this with a culturally conservative message on foreign affairs, immigration and social issues.
New Zealand First’s appeal on such matters could hurt Labour badly, according to Audrey Young: “It is one of several factors likely to keep the party on its upward trajectory, mainly at the expense of Labour. The former Labour MP will help Peters peel off Labour leaners for whom personality is more important in leadership than anything else and who just can't adjust to Andrew Little. Jones will also help peel off Labour-leaning blokes who think the party is too ‘politically correct’ – which is really code for too much control by feminists and gays” – see: Shane Jones is an important part of Winston Peters' plan to regain power.
Young also draws parallels between NZ First and Trump: “Peters' supporters have a similar attitude to Trump's. What matters more is the way he campaigns. He paints an image of a glorious bygone era that has fallen victim to the wicked ways of government, convinces voters they are victims and that he is their salvation, as he is doing in his campaign in the provinces, many of which are thriving. There are hard-luck stories everywhere, even in the cities.
This socially conservative but economically interventionist stance was apparent in Jones’ interview on The Nation in the weekend – see Lisa Owen and Matthew Hutching’s It'll be a tough election, 'but I'm a tough character' - Shane Jones.
According to this report, Jones “says NZ First will win Whangarei voters' favour by dealing with issues of jobs and inequality but unlike any other party, Mr Jones says they'll take on ‘narco criminality" and the menace of gangs’.” See also Mihi Forbes’ interview on The Hui: 'Get up off your asses and take care of yourselves' – Shane Jones.
Blogger Martyn Bradbury says it is actually the National Party that will be vulnerable to losing voters to Peters and Jones, arguing the provincial voters who are alienated from “cultural elitism” are currently with the National Party, not Labour – see: Why the rise of Shane Jones hurts National not Labour.
Bradbury reckons the provincial-urban cleavage is increasing in politics: “The rupture between the provinces and Auckland isn’t just economic, it’s cultural. Look at the careful wording Jones has used to date. Mentioning politically correct and talking openly about speaking to issues that make people feel uncomfortable is the full-on cultural confrontation that the provinces are demanding.”
Here’s Bradbury’s electoral forecast: “I think what we are seeing is a new provincial party in the form of NZ First and a Labour Party that effectively becomes an Urban City Party. A change of government is now a real possibility. I think NZ First will leapfrog to the third largest party at the downfall of National and the most likely outcome will be a Labour-NZ First minority government with Green Party supply and confidence for cabinet positions. Shane Jones is NZ's truest Donald Trump and Muddle Nu Zilind will lap the Jonesy up like a prodigal son returned from making it big in Sydney. Low horizons on a flat earth. Stuart Nash will be weeping into his pillow. Winston Peters could well be the next Prime Minister.
Some will see Shane Jones’ anti-politically correct agenda as being regressive and homophobic. But according to Phil Quin, who knows Jones, this isn’t the case – see his blog post, Let's not weaponise homophobia against allies.
Quin’s argument is worth quoting at length: “In all my interactions with Shane, I've seen no evidence of sexism but, as a man, I'll leave the feminist critique to women. On his attitudes towards LGBT people, however, I feel somewhat qualified to comment. I've known Shane for a while. We're mates. I know his amazing wife, Dot, and was privileged to meet many members of his whanau. Shane Jones is more comfortable in the company of gay men than at least two-thirds of New Zealand men of his generation and background. He is open and relaxed with it comes to discussing issues affecting gay and lesbian New Zealanders. He is no less baffled than me by persistent efforts to deprive people like me of rights otherwise available to New Zealanders. During our conversations, he may have used words than wouldn't make the cut in Acceptable Speech canon so eagerly monitored by New Zealand's Twitter tone police, but I can't recall it.”
Can Shane Jones help make New Zealand First great again?
Audrey Young also believes New Zealand First’s fortunes are likely to continue to rise with Shane Jones: “Jones will help to boost support for New Zealand First in the regions and among Maori. He is widely admired in Maoridom for his command of te reo and is considered one of its best orators. He has a microscopic knowledge of Northland tribal history and families. Unlike Peters, he was raised in Northland on a dairy farm. NZ First is on a roll. In its heyday, 1996, the party gained 13.35% and 17 MPs. It is probably past that point already with just under three months to go to the election” – see: Shane Jones is an important part of Winston Peters' plan to regain power.
Vernon Small also looks at where the party could draw more votes: “He also offers pulling power for the provinces in general – one of Peters' main and overt targets this election – as well as appeal to some of the blue collar and Maori urban vote that Labour is still struggling to win back” – see: Jones for Whangarei is about more than winning a seat.
Of course Jones also comes with baggage: “But with women – especially after his red face from the fall out over accessing blue movies as a minister – and in particularly young ones? Ah not so much… However, not appealing more broadly to women is probably the biggest sea anchor slowing NZ First's push towards a strong mid-teens result on September 23 – and on that score Jones adds little.”
Newstalk ZB’s Felix Marwick is also less sure Jones will be a big advantage for his new party: “But it has to be said that Shane Jones, while gregarious and a good communicator, is possibly one of the more flawed politicians Parliament has seen in recent history. His record in the nine years he was with Labour was certainly chequered. He entered in controversy, accused of double dipping by serving as an MP while still acting for the Waitangi Fisheries Commission. And things didn't exactly improve from there. Add into the mix his nickname as Minister for Porn over his misuse of a ministerial credit card, and his approval of citizenship for now convicted money launderer Bill Liu, and you can see Mr Jones has had more than his fair share of bad news and scandal. These are all things his political opponents will use against him” – see: Shane Jones set to return to politics.
For the ultimate discussion of the pros and cons of Jones standing for New Zealand First, see Heather du Plessis-Allan’s Peters and his Mini-Me. She believes Jones’ previous controversies won’t really be a problem, especially because rival parties will be reluctant to politicise these issues out of fear of alienating a potential post-election coalition partner.
But more importantly, in the longer term, she argues Jones doesn’t necessarily have what it takes, especially if he wishes to be Peters’ successor: “What the party's supporters like about Peters is his old-world charm. He has the ability to make outright populism more palatable through decorum. Jones has the populism part down pat. He has no decorum at all. He's a shabby dresser, is in my view prone to bouts of arrogance and there's the porn thing. Party members are already running an active #neverjones Facebook page, dedicated to opposing his candidacy. What's more, Jones has proven hard to manage. He defied orders in Labour. Peters demands discipline. He'll expect to keep telling his lieutenants what to do. Will Jones obey?”
Of course, one way Shane Jones could make NZ First even greater would be to win the electorate of Whangarei away from National’s Shane Reti. Most commentators suggest there’s little chance of that happening, with Reti’s 13,000 majority making an upset unlikely. But Patrick Gower is willing to go out on a limb with his 12 reasons why Shane Jones can win Whangarei.
Finally, back in 2013 before his departure from the Labour Party, Jones was the subject of one of Steve Braunias’ best secret diaries – see: The Secret Diary of Shane Jones.