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Saturday, 17 June 2017

Elections 2017: Is the rumor of Shane Jones taking over NZ First really true?

I originally wrote this as a piece about Jones joining NZ First in September but after waiting and waiting for it to happen I have rejigged it as you read it now.

Ghastly rumors, scandalous gossip and salacious innuendo; you hear it all if you live in Wellington and work in government for any amount of time.

The tight knit government sector and the village feel of the city, along with the copious amounts of caffeine that fuels daily activity, creates a seething witches cauldron out of which all sorts of strange and interesting things come.

Many of these are the sort of bizarre conglomeration of random facts, scraps of overheard conversations and spurious speculation that bubble up from the minds of bored civil servants who are disengaged at work and have nothing better to do than seethe quietly at their desk while actively feeding the rumor mill by gabbing across the partition, or via their keyboard (and yes, I get the irony of this statement).

Others though, turn out to be true even when they sound bizarre or unbelievable and often echo Mark Twain’s idea that “truth is stranger than fiction”* making it difficult to know which crazy story or weird factiod is real and which is not.

In my five years in Wellington I heard a lot of crazy stuff; much of which sounded like pure science fiction as it contained the usual mix of prominent politicians or civil servants, strange events, convoluted liaisons and a range of motivations seemingly pulled from the latest episode of Game of Thrones and all spiced with enough conspiracy to give Ian Wishart a run for his money.

And with any tight knit village environment a juicy little nugget of info could do the rounds in a morning, spreading from section to section of one area of government before making the leap to other departments before boiling over into Facebook and various blogs online,  making triangulating the source of the story hard and its veracity more so.

Just because you heard it from multiple sources does not make it true when the Wellington rumor mill is working overtime but conversely just because you can’t figure its origin does not mean it’s just the workings of some crazed mind as secrets in Wellington (and often in NZ) are often open-secrets and sometimes it’s just a case of knowing the right people to verify the story.

Luckily (because I am a gregarious social butterfly outside of work hours) I have multiple friends and contacts in all manner of interesting places who can often provide first-hand accounts of the behavior and manners of the “important people” in Wellington.

From my upstairs neighbors, who worked at Weta Workshop, I was able to hear personal details of Peter Jackson’s near to nervous breakdowns while making the Hobbit movies.

My Barista mate in a Wellington cafe told me of the drug running background of one prominent Wellington family which when mixed in with their political and property connections made for mind-blowing conversations about who and what may be funding various sports teams in the capital.

From my friend Q I have been regaled about tales of the various goings on in Parliament which include the usual peccadillo's of sexual behavior and assorted drug use of MPs and party staffers, up to the interesting (and sometimes bizarre) goings on in the Speakers apartment on top of Parliament**

Then, via my neighbor up the street*** when I lived in Brooklyn, I herd tales about her work as a high class “mistress” for several powerful individuals in government and what they like to get up to in their free time which often played out like that one scene in Pulp Fiction (you know the one).

And from my good friend D I have been regaled with all sorts of info about her time inside the security services, where despite having a number of prominent female managers and heads, the old boy sexist culture can still prevail and the allegiance of many is firmly towards the five eyes network over that of any nation or government.

Finally there is my work colleague T, who is well up in the National Party, is always a good source of information about what the party and its inhabitants are thinking or planing.

Was everything they told me true? Maybe, maybe not but every time I heard another one of these tales I filed it away and compared it later on when something that seemed related came up.

In the end the best determinant of a rumor was not its source or content but its persistence, anything that stayed around long enough in an environment where new rumors and gossip arose every day usually ended up under the old rule of where there is smoke there is fire.

Such long running rumors usually persist because there are facts scattered here and there which, when clicked into the story, help give it currency if not totally validate them but ensure that they are able to go through the mill again and as such those little details are added to the next iteration of the product to help keep it alive.

But in Wellington most open secrets remain secret as the media usually will not run with them. In some cases this is understandable and definitely the best option but in others such rumors can lead to bigger things and what might be termed “real news” rather than just salacious gossip akin to something in the tabloids.

And of all the rumors doing the rounds in parliament the ones that usually surface the most are those purely political rumors which are much safer to get into print without being sued for defamation (ala Colin Craig) but may still be nothing more than a load of codswallop.

Examples*4 of political rumors that persist include the various speculations around the sudden departure of John Key, leadership coup rumors in The Labour Party, discussion of the “real” changes taking place in the Greens and my particular favorite: Who is taking over NZ First when Winston Peters retires?

This is one of the most persistent of rumors in NZ politics today. It crops up again and again whenever there is some sniff that it might happen.

Yet for all its persistence it’s also, in my opinion, one of the least credible rumors out there for a number of reasons I will discuss below.

Firstly the basis for this rumor seems to come down to a single source: Mathew Hooton, who scored some credibility when he discussed, in 2014, Shane Jones leaving Labour before Jones actually jumped ship (in the wake of his failed leadership bid) and who then followed it up later with the prediction that Jones would be joining NZ First.

From there it’s remained on permanent rotation in the media and come up whenever there seems to be any possibility that it would happen but never with any further information to support it apart from statements about “rumors” or “hints” being dropped, even by Jones himself most recently, but never with any further validation to them.

The worst offender is Patrick Gower with his article from February this year where the appearance of Jones at a speech by Winston was “a clear sign that he is planning a return to politics this election”.

But Gower is not alone and it’s been repeated time and again and always with no actual substance. Jones recently finished his cushy stint as kept boy diplomat for National after leaving Labour and the speculative articles started up again.

And even with coverage of Jones recent comments in the media about his former masters immigration policies (calling them “conceited”*5) still managed to add to the rumors and speculation while confirming once and for all that he is a political mercenary par excellence.

But that’s what these things will remain (rumors and speculation) until there is an actual statement of Jones joining NZ First because he can drop hints all he likes but with just over three months till polling day time is running out and there are reasons below why Jones heading NZ first seem problematic at best and just an outright bomb at worst.

The biggest of the reasons is that there has been almost no word from Winston on a succession plan for the party and for all intents and purposes there is never going to be one as NZ first is Winston and vice versa.

The idea that NZ First will soldier on post Winston has as much credibility as The Alliance post Jim Anderton; United Future after Peter Dunne; The Opportunities Party without Gareth Morgan; The Internet Party minus Kim Dotcom; the Conservatives sans Colin Craig and ACT lacking David Seymour.

Then there is the fact that anyone who wants to keep the party afloat following Winston’s retirement has to get past the harsh political reality that it’s been his (Winston's) vehicle since the get go and it floundered without him in Parliament before he came back with his win in Northland and like the other one man parties, that have carved out some small niche in NZ politics, probably wont last long after that “man” leaves.

Additionally there is the “Never Shane” section of NZ First that has vehemently opposed the idea that Shane Jones will ever be part of NZ First let alone being the leader of it and while these people may not be all of the party its clear than there is more than enough potential opposition to drag the party down with fractious infighting should Jones ever step inside its bounds.

And with an election looming what party leader (excepting Andrew Little) is going to invite open dissent or even revolt in the ranks by bringing a contentious candidate into the party mix (as Little did by bringing Willie Jackson into the party in February)?

Winston may be a political hack but he is not an idiot and he knows that with the party rising in the polls he would be inviting nothing but a decline in said polling if he was to break open the party over a candidate or new leader like Jones.

Especially when you consider that the idea of Jones being announced as the new leader of the party immediately prior to the election might (and it’s a very stretched “might”) work for a major party which is not reliant on single person to gain vote share but will immediately kill of any Winston related support as voters realize that the person they are voting for won’t even be round post-election.

Then there is the technical issue of Jones getting access to the party as its current rules prevent him from just parachuting down like Rambo into the jungle and taking over (although I do like the idea of Jones, with red bandana and bare chest covered by ammo belts, stalking around with a heavy weapon and menacing the members of the NZ First like a bunch of small town cops out of their depth).

And even if Winston decides to roll the dice before the election, rejig the rules to get Jones in, quell dissent in the ranks and somehow convince the voters that Jones is the one true savior of the middle NZ voter when he leaves he still has to get past long standing NZ First MP and member, and current 2IC, Ron Mark.

Sure Mark knows his limits and probably does not think he could helm the party himself but he has made plenty of time riding on Winston’s coat-tails and even been elected Mayor of Carterton in the past so if he has a future outside of Parliament it is probably there but it seems unlikely that he would risk all his time and effort in the party to give up an opportunity to head it (doomed or not) over some jumped up little upstart who happened to get the job just because he knows the old man.

And like some demented form of fan fiction*7 it would be fun to image Jones and Mark facing off in some grotty sawdust pit, surrounded by a crowd braying for blood while “Two Tribes” plays in the background.

But like the quintessential “who would win in a fair fight” debate between star trek fans about Captain Kirk vs Captain Picard*6 its really just speculation and would do no actual good to the greater whole.

So again, with an election looming is Winston crazy enough to gamble his party’s fortunes on bringing in a ringer for the big game, breaking the rules, pissing off half the team, isolating the star quarterback and potentially alienating fans just because he thinks his “guy” has enough mojo to offset all those negative factors?

Thus as I said before, and will say again, Winston Peters (say it with me) may be a lot of things but crazy is not one of them.

Finally there is all the digging I have done in an attempt to bring some basis to this rumor and despite trying every avenue and contact I had no one was able to bring any further information to situation than what keeps cropping up in the media.

There is one scenario where I can see Jones taking over NZ first but it is not pre-election and not with Winston around.

And while Winston still has a few years left in him I don’t think he wants to spend them in opposition so this election is his best chance to get into government before his time runs out and he sails of into the sunset.

An election outcome where he and NZ First are cut out would probably snap his mind and send him over the edge; that he has always skated along anyway, into the political abyss because I have always felt that he spent the last of his Mojo in getting Northland and his low key approach and lax media coverage this election show that he is both slowing down and his act is wearing out.

Winston’s brand of reactionary populism is less likely to cut it in this day and age (with it boiling up everywhere) so he is going to be gambling all on making it big this election and selling his 10% plus to the highest bidder.

If he gets what he wants then he is back for another three years and watch out NZ; but if NZ First can’t make the grade or National has enough elsewhere to go it without him then that’s it for Winston and NZ First.

Thus sooner or later Winston will leave politics and when he does he might bequeath the party to Jones as a parting gift but it’s only a gift in the same way that getting a dose of the clap is a “gift” as no-one is going to want to vote for NZ First without Winston and no-one is going to want to vote for Jones in any number to make up for the loss of Winston.

So I could be wrong and Jones is going to join NZ First at some point but I will believe it when I see it and even if I do end up seeing it I wont believe it as nothing about Jones joining the party has any merit except the fact that he is a mate of Winston and that Mathew Hooton sure knows how to spin a good story*8.

*-He also adds “…but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t”
**- Didn’t know it was there? Next time you are on the grounds out front have a look up at it. Its’ that extra level set above the main level of the parliament building.
***-I met this lady because our daughters were of similar age and played together on weekends. She was relatively open about what she did and made enough money to own her house freehold and have her extremely expensive Agent Provocateur lingerie insured for several thousand dollars as a business expense.
*4-In this instance I mean rumors which directly relate to politics and not to the sexual or social behaviors of MPs.
*5 which is not the first word I would use to describe the current immigration policies of NZ
*6 the correct answer, of course, is Captain Kirk.
*7 Jones would have the size, weight and reach, but Mark is ex-military and probably have a few CQB (Close Quarters Battle) tricks up his sleeve so I would probably put my money of Mark beating Jones.
*8-Hooton has been taken to task before on his "story telling" and the best examples are here and here.


  1. I wonder if the Labour party is soon susceptible to a sudden policy lurch. Of course the Marxist stream Media would go apoplectic during their continuous descent into the dark vacuum, and I don't think it could be achieved the way the Douglas Prebble revolution occurred. I quite like Andrew Little but I seem alone. Jacinda and the others won't cut it for long, and Shane Jones has really been underground so long, does he really exist?.
    This structural change would involve a relatively charismatic character I think. The NZ First social conservatives, will need somewhere to go soon, the NAT Government is cynical, neo apartheid, a massive borrower, and dishonest. , so why not the kernel left by Labour. It's not Winston though, I can't see any succession from NZF at all. One thing is for sure, Labour will split into a hard left for all you Communists and a realistic opposition to the very bad Nat Government.

    1. " One thing is for sure, Labour will split into a hard left"

      Care to put a timeline on this surefire prediction?

  2. Hi Paul:

    I would agree that a policy lurch for NZ labour in the wake of Corbyn might happen but unlike UK Labour I think it will be tempered by the significant centrist elements which remain in Labour NZ, unlike UK Labour where they are being weeded out in the wake of the recent election results.

    Also I agree that Jones seems more like some sort of lucky charm rather than a genuine political entity. I am genuinely dubious of any real political worth of him in any party.

    But I don't think the Left could take any further splits in parties. Rather Labour NZ avoids balkanisation any further by purging one side or another in a ritual blood letting under one charasnatic leader or another.