Shane Jones

What effect will Andrew Little have on the leadership race?

In 2013, David Cunliffe won the Labour leadership contest in the first round, winning 51.15% of the total vote. Second preferences weren’t needed. Despite winning just over 32% of the caucus vote, Cunliffe blitzed the field in the membership vote (60.14%) and union vote (70.77%). Grant Robertson came in a distant second, with just short of 33% of the total vote, while Shane Jones limped home in third with almost 16%.

Jones was never a serious contender. It was an ego boost for him, as well as being a form of post-porn redemption. Andrew Little’s candidacy though is a different sort of beast. Whereas Jones was largely despised by the unions (picking up only around 12% of the union vote), Little – as a former EPMU secretary – has serious union street cred. Likewise, where Jones was distrusted by a significant portion of the party membership – seen as a sort of closet National sympathiser – Little has solid left credentials, offset perhaps by a somewhat humourless reputation and an inability to win an electorate seat.

So what does that mean for the leadership race? Firstly, it means that Cunliffe is highly unlikely to hold his 2013 membership and union voting base.  A portion was already likely to have deserted him, thanks to the terrible 2014 election campaign, but that portion is likely to now significantly increase, to Little’s benefit.

The pro-Little effect is likely to most significant in the union vote, which makes up 20% of the total. Little’s former union, the EPMU, is the strongest of the six affiliated unions, making up around 40% of the total union vote. Cunliffe received 71.43% of the EPMU vote last time; this time round, it would be extremely surprising if they didn’t break heavily for Little. That’s just shy of 8% of the total vote already in Little’s camp, largely from Cunliffe’s side of the ledger.

That means that it’s highly unlikely that any of the three candidates are going to win the leadership without going to preferences. So, who’s most likely to drop out first? If it’s Cunliffe or Robertson, you can be sure that most of their supporters’ second preferences would be for Little, as the compromise candidate. That would likely be enough to hand Little the leadership. If Little drops out first though, Robertson will likely be leader.

Let’s play with some (admittedly rough and ready) numbers:

  • At present, it sounds like Cunliffe has the support of about a quarter of the caucus, while Robertson has about half. So let’s use those proportions and give Little the remaining quarter.
  • And let’s assume that Robertson slightly grows his share of the membership vote to 30%, while Little grabs 30% and Cunliffe maintains an edge with 40%.
  • And let’s further assume that the EPMU largely votes Little, while Robertson holds his share of the remaining five unions, and Little and Cunliffe split the remainder about half and half between them. That gives Little about 60% of the total union vote, with Cunliffe on 30% and Robertson on 10%.

All up, that gives both Robertson and Little a total of 34%, while Cunliffe is only marginally behind on 32%. It’s a close race, but Cunliffe would drop out, making Little the likely victor on preferences.

It wouldn’t take much for the result to go in a rather different direction. For instance, if the unions didn’t break quite as heavily for Little, giving him 50% rather than 60%, and that 10% stayed with Cunliffe, suddenly both Cunliffe and Robertson would be sitting together on 34%, while Little would come third on 32%.

At the end of the day, it’s impossible to say how much Cunliffe’s support amongst the membership and unions has been damaged by the 2014 election campaign. Labour’s former president Mike Williams told National Radio on Monday that the unions had voted overwhelmingly for Cunliffe because they thought he could beat Key. According to Williams, the unions no longer think that.

My pick at this stage? Cunliffe to drop out in round one, with Little triumphing on preferences. Unless of course the picture gets further complicated by David Shearer or David Parker entering, to make the race a four- or five-way… Because then all bets would be off!




The leadership characteristic that shall not be named

David Cunliffe formally resigns today, setting up a head-to-head battle between him and Grant Robertson, although there’s still a chance that David Shearer, Andrew Little and/or Stuart Nash might throw their hat(s) into the ring.

As the Labour MPs arrived for the resignation caucus, Little refused to rule himself out, instead repeating the line that he needed to wait for the special votes to be counted, to see whether he was even going to be returned to Parliament. Likewise, Nash too was refusing to rule himself out, despite apparently having been told by fellow MPs that he didn’t have the numbers in caucus for either leader or deputy.

The last leadership ballot was largely a genial, gentlemanly sort of event. Cunliffe, Robertson and Shane Jones toured the country, trading wisecracks and generally attempting to prove just how staunchly left-wing they could suddenly be. This time around, the whole enterprise is likely to be a rather murkier affair.

Robertson, on The Nation over the weekend, has already put the boot into Cunliffe, highlighting Cunliffe’s leadership mistakes, while Cunliffe has slapped back, attacking the lack of broad appeal of beltway politicians.

Where things are going to get really nasty though is the issue of Grant Robertson’s sexuality. David Cunliffe’s supporters want Robertson’s sexuality to be an ongoing topic of conversation. The idea is that if enough people are asking whether South Auckland voters will vote for a gay Prime Ministerial candidate, the seeds of doubt amongst the membership will help get Cunliffe over the line.

No one actually wants to come right out and say it though. Yesterday afternoon, on National Radio’s The Panel, everyone could contentedly assert that it wasn’t a problem for them personally, but for others, well, who knows?

The unspoken assumption is that to be New Zealand’s Prime Minister, you must be straight. Here’s Su’a William Sio’s comment (via Laura McQuillan’s Twitter account) as he arrived for Labour’s caucus meeting this morning:

Robertson’s sexuality “never came up” at Mangere LEC but there are “characteristics” that influence leadership support.


Sio warns leadership contenders (ie Robertson) will be under scrutiny from Pasifika voters for “their personal and private characteristics”

It doesn’t take a genius to work out which of Robertson’s “characteristics” Sio and his Mangere electorate committee find so distressing…

Then there’s this reporting by Andrea Vance of “[o]ne community leader, who did not want to be named”:

Robertson’s homosexuality clashed with socially conservative attitudes of voters, who would turn instead to NZ First, he said.

‘‘If Labour want to go from 24 [per cent] to 14 and put NZ First from 10 to 19, that’s the way to go. He won’t unify the party. He will destroy the South Auckland power base, that three Ms [Mangere, Manukau East and Manurewa electorates]. It’s not so much Grant, it’s what aligns with their beliefs … it will probably be a tipping point.’’

In the end, few will come right out and say it, “We need the homophobe vote, so Grant Robertson just won’t do”. In fact, just like the unnamed community leader, few will even want their names associated with their own more toned down concerns. Nonetheless, the whispering campaign will continue, Robertson will be asked in every second interview whether his sexuality will make a difference, and he’ll give yet another variant of his answer about how he also likes rugby and beer.

Robertson might also like to point out that West Auckland voters elected and re-elected the openly gay Chris Carter from 1993 to 2008, while Louisa Wall easily held her South Auckland seat of Manurewa.

Cunliffe gives retirement hint to Beaumont, Fenton and Huo?

With Shane Jones soon to be a political memory, David Cunliffe has done a “mini shuffle” today.

Of the winners, Andrew Little rockets up six places to 11th because of his work “doing the heavy lifting in Justice and Labour”, Phil Twyford picks up transport from Darien Fenton and moves up to 6th with a spot on the front bench, Grant Robertson picks up Shane Jones’ old economic development portfolio, and Trevor Mallard moves from being unranked to 15th.

Maryan Street both wins and loses, dropping four places to 16th, but picking up the tertiary education portfolio.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the “mini shuffle” is Kelvin Davis. He’s still waiting for Mr Jones to actually leave so he can enter Parliament, but he’s been given the number 22 ranking, plus associate roles in regional development, education, police and corrections. That means he leapfrogs Carol Beaumont, Megan Woods, Kris Faafoi, Darien Fenton, Clare Curran, Ruth Dyson, Raymond Huo, Rino Tirikatene, Meka Whaitiri and Poto Williams.

Labour obviously has no intention of accidentally losing Mr Davis for a second time, should the party crash and burn again in September.

So what about those ranked below him? It’s not such an issue for Woods, Tirikatene, Whaitiri and Williams – they’re relatively new MPs with safe seats. Likewise, Faafoi has only been around since 2010 and holds a safe seat.

Claire Curran and Ruth Dyson will certainly be spending a lot of time shoring up support in their electorates, given the relatively marginal nature of their seats, but – for the moment at least – they’ve got electorate seats.

It’s a different story though for Carol Beaumont, Darien Fenton and Raymond Huo. They’re all list MPs, totally reliant on the party vote to get them back in. And they’ve just been told that they aren’t worth as much as Mr Davis, who isn’t yet an MP and who ranked below them last election.

Labour has been copping a fair amount of stick regarding their lack of regeneration. It certainly looks as if Cunliffe is sending a signal to these three list MPs that they might like to re-examine their career plans for the good of the party.

Shane Jones’ departure shows just why Labour should be glad he’s going

There was an interesting article by Claire Trevett in the NZ Herald this morning, in which Shane Jones’ partner, Dot Pumipi, was interviewed about Mr Jones’ departure:

Shane Jones’ partner, Dot Pumipi, says the MP’s greatest fear in making the decision to resign was that his phone would stop ringing and he would get withdrawal symptoms from the sudden lack of attention.

It’s an interview that sums up the gigantic narcissism of a politician like Shane Jones. Just as we probably all expected, it’s now been confirmed that it’s all been about Jonesy and the attention he could get.

He’s confirmed it too as he walks out the Labour party door, giving interviews to all and sundry where he reprises his “geldings” attack on the Labour caucus, implies that the party’s moved too far to the left, continues his attack on the Green party, and says he could never work under a Greens’ minister. It’s good headline grabbing stuff, but it’s a slap to the face of Jones’ soon-to-erstwhile colleagues. David Cunliffe must be spitting tacks at the method of Jones’ departure, but he and the remaining Labour caucus will be breathing a sigh of relief that Jones is gone.

At the end of the month, Shane Jones will drift off into the Pacific, into a well-paid political oblivion, and the negative headlines that followed him wherever he went will end. Clayton Cosgrove will take over Labour’s hatchet job on Countdown (and Cosgrove makes a good attack dog, albeit one not quite so flamboyant as Jones), and Kelvin Davis will step up to the plate as an example of dignified, modern Maori leadership. And as the election campaign begins, the only people missing Jones will be the media.

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.)

Shane Jones – licensed vigilante?

Shane Jones appeared on TV3s The Nation over the weekend to ramp up his attack on Countdown. (And seems to have overstepped the mark in a Winston Peters-esque fashion with his accusation that Countdown had sent a threatening letter to members of Parliament’s commerce select committee. Jonathan Young, head of the select committee, has denied that such a letter was received, and Countdown’s communications manager, Kate Porter, has stated, “We have asked the select committee for a record of what was said at their recent meeting because it affects our business. Anyone is able to do that.”)

Of course, along with an obligatory question about whether Mr Jones is intending to jump ship to NZ First (I say again, respect, Mr Hooton!), Patrick Gower quizzed Jones about his vendetta against the Greens. Mr Jones’ response was interesting. He certainly didn’t resile from his ongoing criticism of the Green party, and in fact hinted that he had the thumbs up from the Labour leadership to continue putting the boot in.

His approach to the Greens was explained fairly simply – Jones belongs to the Labour party, and his job is to grow the Labour party vote, not the Greens’, New Zealand First’s or Mana’s respective vote shares. One can certainly see where he’s coming from. At the end of the day, the higher Labour’s share of the vote, the more MPs they get and the more Parliamentary funding and staffing. More MPs equals more presence on the ground. And the higher Labour’s share of the vote compared to the Greens or NZ First, the fewer Ministerial roles that have to be given away, should they be in a position to form a government.

Of course, the issue is that Labour can’t govern alone. It needs the Greens, and it will likely need NZ First (and possibly even Mana). The voting public are well aware of this and want to see a left wing bloc that looks coherent enough to form a stable government. Labour party attacks on the Greens don’t provide a picture of left wing stability.

So, does Mr Jones has carte blanche from Cunliffe and McCarten to continue his anti-Greens rhetoric? Is he a licensed vigilante? Or can he simply not help himself when a camera is thrust in his face?

If he’s received a dispensation from on high, Labour are obviously banking on Jones’ pulling power over centrist voters outweighing the damage caused by swing voters staying away from a fractious-looking potential coalition. That seems a relatively zero-sum game for Labour, but maybe they’re seeing something in their internal polling that hasn’t yet flowed through to the major public polls.

Or perhaps it’s a desperate move by Labour to simply take votes from the Greens. If Labour loses 2014, but gets a decent mid-30s share of the vote, then Cunliffe might just hold onto the leadership through till 2017. But I can’t see Jones being in league with Cunliffe to that extent…

One still gets that sneaking suspicion that it’s all about Jones. If I had to bet, I’d say that he hasn’t been licensed at all – he’s just a vigilante. And if that’s the case, how far is Cunliffe able to go to rein Jones in?


Hooton makes mischief

On the lighter side of political news today, Matthew Hooton wrote a column in the National Business Review which floated the possibility that Shane Jones might jump ship from Labour to NZ First. Hooton saw Mr Jones’ recent erratic behaviour as being a pretext to either leave Labour or get himself kicked out. The cunning plan, according to Hooton, ran thusly:

“Shane Jones has got to look to the future. He doesn’t like the Labour Party, the Labour Party doesn’t like him. But there’s a fantastic opportunity for him to become a New Zealand First MP and barnstorm the nation with Winston Peters.”

The plan would then be for Winston Peters to hand the NZ First leadership to Jones, ensuring an ongoing dynasty.

Now Hooton has obviously been interviewing his keyboard, given that just days ago he seemed to be trying to spread rumours that Jones was trying to drum up support for a coup against David Cunliffe. However, the reaction to the story was hilarious.

Firstly, Mr Jones had to deny the rumours on TVNZ’s Breakfast show, with Jones stating, “It’ll be a long day in hell before I ever take my political advice from Matthew”.

This then led to the NZ Herald running with the online headline, ‘Shane Jones denies claims he’s defecting to NZ First’. “Claims”? It was a hypothetical scenario posited by a political commentator. It wasn’t a “claim”. Nonetheless, one should never let the facts get in the way of a good headline…

Then, on Radio New Zealand’s Panel, things got even more ridiculous, with panellist Susan Hornsby-Geluk (a well-known employment lawyer) indignantly declaring that Mr Jones could leave Labour if he liked, but:

“it would be disappointing if he were embarking on a deliberate strategy to goad Cunliffe into chucking him out of the party and in the meantime ruining the Labour party, so I would say, if he wants to do it, do it, but there’s another question here as to, you know, if he does get chucked out of the party under those circumstances, are people actually going to trust him, his judgement and the way he’s gone about it, so in some ways I agree with Neville [Gibson, her fellow panellist] that it does make sense, but I think he would be better off being more open about his reasons rather than goading Cunliffe into chucking him out…”

This was after Neville Gibson, editor-in-chief of the NBR, had just noted that it was Mr Hooton’s role as a columnist to be provocative, and Mr Gibson had no idea whether there was any truth whatsoever to Hooten’s scenario…

Perhaps the final observation should be to refer back to Mr Jones’ Breakfast interview. “[Hooten’s] whole agenda is to create divisiveness and mischief on our side of politics.” Mission accomplished, me thinks! Well played, Mr Hooton.

Cunliffe won’t be going anywhere

Following the Herald-Digipoll result showing Labour dropping below 30% and David Cunliffe’s preferred PM rating dropping below David Shearer’s worst every Digipoll rating, there’s been much discussion on the inter-web about whether Cunliffe will last till the election. In my opinion, the speculation is ridiculous – Cunliffe’s going nowhere.

Now, if Labour had not changed the rules regarding the process of rolling a leader, I think Shane Jones would already be moving against Mr Cunliffe. With a defeatist attitude over Cunliffe’s leadership seemingly all-pervasive, Jones, with his currently-enlarged media presence, may very well have been in a position to persuade the majority of his colleagues that a circuit-breaker mach 2 (eg. Jones) was required.

However, the rule changes make Cunliffe safe. Firstly, even if the Labour caucus somehow found the numbers to trigger a ballot, Labour’s MPs will have no intention of declaring war on their party members and the unions, who installed Cunliffe against those MPs’ wishes. Secondly, Labour cannot spare the time or money to devote to a new leadership campaign and ballot. They’re already up against the wall in terms of fundraising and finalising policy. Leadership ructions would put funds at risk and severely compromise the roll-out of policy.

The only way Mr Cunliffe is disappearing as leader is if he walks of his own volition, and Cunlffe’s ego is far too big for that. Regardless of how many polls Labour gets that show the party in the late-20s, the party now has no choice but to tough it out and hope that National ministers such as Collins, Adams and Parata continue to make headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Factionalism – it’s a killer…

It is a truth universally acknowledged (well, it’s repeated so often by the punditry that it must be true!) that the public hates discord and division in a political party. The public wants stable government, and any party that can’t keep its own members in line is seen as Not Ready To Govern.

Following the latest Herald-Digipoll, showing Labour plunging back down into the late-20s, many pundits have been quick to try and deconstruct exactly why Labour’s doing so badly. A failure to put forward an over-arching vision? An over-arching vision that’s just unpalatable to the average punter? Women not able to vote for David Cunliffe because they don’t like his face? Cunliffe’s inability to make a public speech without appearing to mislead the public or look like a hypocrite?

David Cunliffe has blamed the poll result on his recent issues with secret trusts. It’s all behind him now, he says, and fortunes will be reversed for the better. But he would say that… He also reckons that Labour’s private polling puts them at 34%. Now there’s a problem there, which is that 34% is still not a particularly good number. And the best that Labour has reached in any major poll this year is 34%, and that was a one-off from the last Colmar-Brunton poll.

Basically, Labour has been sitting in the early-30s doldrums for quite some time now, and explanations are needed beyond simply the day-to-day scandals and beltway issues that are quickly forgotten by the public.

To me, it comes down to factionalism; there are so many warring factions in Labour right now, that deep down in the public’s collective consciousness, the public just don’t see Labour as a viable governing party. Cunliffe can make as many uplifting visionary speeches as he likes, but it won’t make a lick of difference unless the public believe that his team believe it. Because a leader can’t prepare, package and sell the entire policy platform that supports the broad over-arching vision. To put the idea into company-speak, the CEO needs middle-management buy-in to make a success of the company’s vision statement, and frankly, Labour’s “middle-management” (its MPs) just aren’t there.

A few examples: Phil Goff runs foreign policy how he damn well likes, and seems to take great delight in issuing press releases that seem to contradict what his leader said earlier that day. Cunliffe talks up the Labour-Greens relationship, while Shane Jones continues a one-man crusade against them. That the ‘Anyone But Cunliffe’ (ABC) section of Labour’s parliamentary wing exists is common knowledge.

That’s not to say that the problem is Labour’s alone. Both National and Labour operate as broad church parties, full of competing ideologies. Even the minor parties have their issues – the Greens have their struggle between the hard-core activists and those who want to take a more moderate business-friendly approach; ACT tore itself apart as it swung between ideological social liberalism and conservative Garth McVicar-ism; while United Future has collected and dumped all sorts of odd little factions in its time, including the hunting lobby and a bunch of Christian conservatives.

Nonetheless, Labour needs to take a good hard look at itself, work together and heal a few rifts. Otherwise, the public simply won’t bother listening. The mid-30s will be as good as it gets. Can they do it in time? Probably not. Perception can be a time-consuming thing to change, and there’s only six months.

One final point on factionalism – it’s easier to keep dissenters under wraps in the good times. Does anyone really think that when National’s ratings start to fall and John Key steps down (whichever happens first), that National won’t turn feral as the pragmatists and ideologues battle it out for supremacy? It will certainly be worth bringing popcorn for, but it’s probably quite some time away, judging from Labour’s problems…