What does Shane Jones’ departure mean for Labour?

So, Shane Jones is leaving the building, wooed away by an offer from Murray McCully to become a roving economic ambassador throughout the Pacific.

The political reaction has been rather diverse. Over at the Daily Blog and the Standard, various hardened left wing activists trumpeted his departure as a victory – a lancing of a right wing boil from Labour’s soft left wing skin – while various political commentators have decried his leaving as a huge blow to Labour’s ability to attract votes from National.

Personally, I see it as a short term blow, in terms of voter perception of the manner of his departure, but nothing more.

The problem for Labour is the timing and the miscommunication. Having a former aspirant to the Labour leadership, and a front bench MP who has been firing on all cylinders recently, suddenly duck and run just five months out from the election looks terrible. It leaves the impression that Mr Jones does not believe that Labour can win. Plus, once the news broke, Labour simply looked disorganised. No one could be found for comment, and those that did comment didn’t seem to know anything. It was a case of terrible political management.

I can’t speak to Mr Jones’ actual motivations for leaving, but I would have thought that he is smart enough to know that it will only take a small swing to the left, and it’s game on for Labour and the Greens. To me, I think he’s simply become disillusioned with what he can personally achieve. He’s been muzzled, and the thought of wearing that muzzle for three more years leaves him cold. Certainly, his comment on TVNZs Breakfast show this morning, as reported in the NZ Herald, would indicate that it’s disillusionment, rather than defeatism:

There were frustrations during his career in being reigned in over some comments he had made, Mr Jones said.

“The political collar has chafed this dog’s neck and now I’ve slipped the collar.”

That comment sums up why I don’t see Mr Jones’ departure as being anything more than a short-term voter perception problem for Labour. Mr Jones may have a certain level of support among swing voters, but it’s outweighed by his slipshod approach to politics. He’s undisciplined, turns off women voters in droves with his casual misogyny, and simply cannot stay on message (as evidenced by his continued attacks on the Greens, presumably against the instructions of those on high). He creates just as many negative headlines as he does positive headlines, and would just as likely prove a liability in the upcoming election campaign as he would a positive. Mr Cunliffe would be continually on edge, every time Jones popped his head up to create a soundbite.

Certainly, Shane Jones has been Labour’s most effective mouthpiece regarding the importance of job creation. Yet the positive headlines about jobs would generally be balanced by a negative headline about whether Jones’ statements exposed further division within the Labour party.

On balance, once Jones goes and the media furore dies down, I don’t see there being a medium- or long-term downside for Labour. Perhaps Danyl McLauchlan at the Dim-Post sums it up best:

I guess this is ‘bad for Labour’. It makes them look weak and disorganised, and the gallery will run around wailing that Labour have just lost their brightest star. (I think they’ve lost an undisciplined, waffling misogynist who probably cost them more votes than he ever won.)

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