A lost opportunity

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Before he decided to leave the Labour Party, Shane Jones had been talked up by many as the party’s great hope. And indeed, he could have become New Zealand’s first Maori Prime Minister, and the only reason why this won’t now happen is that a lot of people never liked him.

When Shane Jones looks back on his political career, he will reflect with some sadness on what could have been. If the only people allowed to vote in political contests had been political journalists and members of the press gallery, Jones would now be Labour leader.

The great tragedy is that Jones was a working class hero who was not particularly working class, and for whom working class people didn’t seem inclined to vote. He was never popular enough to win an electorate seat, despite three attempts.

Where, then, did it go wrong for Shane Jones? Was it because his “blokeyness” had limited appeal to female voters? Was it the controversial decision by the government in 1893 to allow women to vote that finally sunk Jones’ chances? Or was it something else? Did Shane Jones have the skills to lead a major political party?

Success as the leader of a large political party requires discipline, energy, a relentless focus, and the ability to bring different groups together. Shane Jones will regret that he was not blessed with a great number of these attributes, although to his credit he was loved by the media and was renowned for his great oratory. He knew how to give a good speech. Those skills should not be underrated.

Yes, Shane Jones loves to talk and be heard. Politics is about communicating messages to the voters, and so a fondness for one’s own voice need not necessarily be fatal in a profession that requires a lot of speechmaking. Sadly, however, an inability to know when to stop talking usually is.

We have heard an awful lot in the last few days from Shane Jones about what is wrong with Labour, but not so much about how to fix the problems he claims exist, unless the solution is to be more like the National Party. That solution poses strategic problems for Labour, because voters need an actual alternative to National, not the same thing that the other major party is offering but in the colour red.

But Shane Jones is a loss to Labour. An intelligent, witty and articulate man, Jones is never boring, and is beloved by those who write about politics, even if most of those asked to vote for him from time to time have displayed less enthusiasm.

And now Shane Jones is undertaking one last tour of the nation’s media outlets, a farewell tour to thank his fans for their support. It is fitting that before he moves into the fisheries role Murray McCully created for him Jones spends some time casting out his lines, seeking out those to blame for the stifling of his political ambitions: environmentalists, gays, women, geldings, etcetera etcetera (to paraphrase the great man).

Jones may look back on his time in politics and conclude that leadership of the Labour Party was the one that got away. What could have been, if only he had been more disciplined and focused, and had not made such an effort to annoy and aggravate others?

Shane Jones could have led the Labour Party to victory in the 2014 election, if only he had been a different person.