Winston and the Jones ploy
Winston Peters has been unusually quiet this year.
Oh, he's been doing the usual rounds of speeches to Grey Power meetings and other regional gatherings.
And he's been quite active on the floor of Parliament, and assiduous in attending higher profile gatherings in his Northland electorate.
Prime Minister Bill English’s move to make superannuation an election policy – for all the government's moves to shift the age of eligibility for the state pension it is, in its substance, far too timid and gradualist – has given Mr Peters something new to chew on.
But, because it will not affect anyone over the age of 45, it is effectively set up to be Winston-proof. The NZ First leader’s ability to expand his support base on the back of this policy is small.
Usually, by this time in an election year, Mr Peters has made a splash, either with an attack on immigration or what he used to call the "sickly white liberalism" of Treaty of Waitangi settlements or with a new scandal.
This year, nothing.
Along comes Jones
Rumours persist that former Labour Party MP, Northland resident and friend of Winston, Shane Jones will come on board the New Zealand First party, with a prominent list position and a run in one of the Northland electorates – Whangarei is the most often mentioned.
And, in the coffee house whirl of Wellington rumour, there are other rumours Mr Jones isn’t going to come back to politics, that he, variously, “has gone off the idea” and “doesn't’ have the ticker” for moving back to Parliament and becoming, in effect, the heir apparent to the leadership of a small political party.
Because that, of course, is what it would mean: Mr Peters is now into his 70s, and he has an ambitious, scrappy deputy in Ron Mark who is probably not going to quietly accede to Mr Jones being slotted in as leader above him if, and when, Mr Peters decides to take his parliamentary pension and go fishing.
There is already a “Never Shane” group set up by disgruntled New Zealand First members running a Facebook page. While anyone can (and, generally, anyone does) set up such pages, this is the zit on the top of a fairly resentful pimple.
Watch one other dog which may or may not bark, though: whether Foreign Minister Murray McCully stands aside from that portfolio in May.
This has been taken for granted: Mr McCully is not standing again in his East Coast Bays electorate and is widely expected to retire from politics – well, from parliament, anyway – at this year’s election.
It is understood Mr Jones would if he comes back to Parliament and is part of any post-September 23 government, like a foreign affairs-related role. He has an internationalist perspective of economic and trade matters which sits well with National but less well with Labour these days. He has lived overseas and his work as ambassador in the Pacific has given him contacts which, given growing international interest in the region, are more global in reach than might be expected.
There are National ministers who want the foreign affairs job – Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee, Attorney General Chris Finlayson and the ambitious, leadership aspirant Jonathan Coleman are the most often mentioned.
But Prime Minister Bill English will not want to promote another minister to foreign affairs for a few months in May, only to have to demote them after the election. Disgruntled, demoted ministers are trouble for prime ministers – just ask Jim Bolger.
So, watch what happens to the cabinet line-up in May. No change in that area is likely to mean the Jones Ploy is in play.