Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: National's poaching of Shane Jones - brilliant or dirty?

Shane Jones. Photo / APN
Shane Jones. Photo / APN

National's audacious poaching of Shane Jones from the Labour Party caucus is undoubtedly a brilliant piece of strategic maneuvering. But should it also be viewed as a cynical, dirty and even 'corrupt' ploy to undermine the electoral chances of the Opposition?

Shane Jones' departure from Parliament to take up a job created by the National Government is a huge blow to Labour and this is best outlined by John Armstrong today in his column Resignation couldn't have come at a worse time. This shock news raises all sorts of interesting and important issues about the Labour Party, but equally it raises questions about the role of National and it's Machiavellian strategist Murray McCully.

National's ploy - brilliant, dirty or both?

For a salute to the brilliance of McCully in poaching Jones, see Matthew Hooton's Labour loses link to Winston (paywalled). Speaking of McCully, Hooton says 'The old dog still has it in him. Foreign minister Murray McCully's luring of Labour's best political performer Shane Jones to work for the government is one of the more stunning exhibitions of the dark arts we will ever see'.

TV3's Patrick Gower has labelled the poaching of Jones 'a dodgy deal', arguing that 'it is a complete and utter jack-up done primarily to hurt Labour' - see: Crafty McCully's dodgy Jones deal.

Gower also labels National's strategist as 'McCully-avelli', and says that 'the Prince of Darkness is back in business', speculating on the rising stocks of McCully within National.

National is being accused of using the resources of the state to give it an advantage in its electoral competition. Traditionally, such appointments are termed 'patronage' and can be used either to benefit a party's supporters or buy off their opponents.

Gordon Campbell makes this argument strongly, saying that 'MFAT now operates as the Minister's personal fiefdom, and as a political slush fund' - see his column, On the Shane Jones departure. The key part of Campbell's column is this: 'Presumably, Jones' new salary is going to come out of either (a) the MFAT foreign aid budget or (b) the MFAT diplomacy budget. Reportedly, the role being designed for Jones will be at ambassadorial level. If so, this means that not only scant MFAT resources but the processes around the granting of diplomatic status and credentialling are to be contorted so that National can score political points in an election year. No one will be surprised that Jones has risen to the bait, but the cynicism of the exercise is breath-taking'.

Blogger No Right Turn takes an even harder line about the use of state resources for electoral purposes, saying in one post that if McCully had 'offered Jones a briefcase full of cash to resign, we'd call it what it is: Corruption and bribery of member of Parliament. I don't see how creating him a special job is any different' - see: Good riddance.

In "Shoulder-tapping" vs public service values, No Right Turn calls the appointment 'a total violation of public service values, and an unlawful exercise of Ministerial power'. Similarly, the Secretary of the Public Service Association, Brenda Pilott (@PSAsecretary) has taken to Twitter to question the appointment, saying: 'Is Shane Jones new appointment a public service role, or a ministerial one? If former, it's another mark of politicisation of public service'.

For more tweets - from a variety of perspectives - see my blog post Top tweets about Shane Jones resigning as a Labour MP. For another social media analysis, see Matthew Beveridge's Twitter responds to Shane Jones retiring.

Hooton argues, in contrast, that the poaching of Jones by McCully 'can't be criticised for an appointment that is entirely legitimate. Mr Jones is one of New Zealand's foremost experts in the seafood industry, given his long and controversial career at the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission, and is well connected through the Pacific. It is also in line with Mr McCully's innovative approach to ambassadorial appointments, of not handing them out automatically to the foreign ministry's old school but to search more widely for talent. Mr McCully now has the perfect Pacific economic ambassador' - see: Labour loses link to Winston (paywalled).

Labour, too, is criticising the National Government for poaching, with David Cunliffe saying today that this was a 'hell of a way' for National to try to win an election, and 'I guess at some point they're going to run out of embassies for all the opposition MPs. You can certainly see the hand of (Foreign Affairs Minister) Murray McCully on that' - see Jane Patterson's Shane Jones 'slips political collar'.

A major blow for Labour

Most political commentary today is emphasising how damaging Jones' departure is for Labour. John Armstrong argues it 'is close to an unmitigated disaster for Labour' and provides very good reasons why in his column Resignation couldn't have come at a worse time.

Chronicling Labour's strange official response to the Jones announcement, Vernon Small paints a picture of dysfunction in his column Jones' exit plunges Labour into disarray.

Matthew Hooton's column (Labour loses link to Winston - paywalled) makes a further interesting point: 'Mr Jones' defection is deeply humiliating for Mr Cunliffe. On top of revelations Mr Jones' Labour leadership campaign was part-funded by Sir Wira Gardiner, a former vice-president of the National Party and husband of education minister Hekia Parata, it reveals that Labour's best political performer this year has been talking to even more people he shouldn't have been, right under Mr Cunliffe's nose. It exposes the lack of respect that Mr Jones has towards his leader - which he has made no secret of in his briefings of journalists and businesspeople - and that he either doesn't think Mr Cunliffe can win the election or doubts the Labour caucus would elect him to the cabinet if he did'.

Identity politics divide in Labour

Not all on the political left are lamenting Shane Jones' departure from the Labour caucus. In fact there is a major division of thought about how valuable Jones has been for the Labour Party. Much of this debate boils down to the issue of identity politics and concerns about social liberalism versus social conservatism. Jones was clearly in the more socially conservative camp within Labour, and many on the left have expressed strong reservations about Jones' orientation towards issues of gender and even ethnicity. His orientation towards environmentalism and the Green Party were also of extreme irritation to many in Labour and on the left.

For this reason, some are celebrating his departure - the most vivid examples being Danyl Mclauchlan in 'I told ya so' of the day, Shane Jones edition, No Right Turn in Good riddance, and Martyn Bradbury in The blue collar cred smoko room mythology of Shane Jones as told by the msm.

Others have warned against a desire to rid Labour of all but a narrow range of views. Speaking last night on the Paul Henry Show, Chris Trotter argued metaphorically that Labour if keeps on closing down it's 'cathedrals' and 'basilicas' in favour of only 'small chapels' it ceases to be the 'broad church' it needs to be - see his 3-minute interview: Political expert calls Jones' departure 'significant'.

Jones' departure may well spark further debate over what Labour should focus on. Josie Pagani argues the party needs to be more class-oriented, focusing on economic issues that truly impact on potential Labour voters, and less on social-liberal concerns. Pagani says Labour activists should 'demand a focus on jobs, and higher wages, not on banning Nigella, or trucks, or roads, or whatever NGO the Labour party is trying to be this week' - see: Warning to Labour; the heretic hunters are driving people away. Similarly, another blog accuses Labour of wanting to 'reside over a utopia of ashes' - see Fundamentally Useless' The red bush tea party.

For a nuanced and thoughtful analysis of some of these issues, see Russell Brown's Jones: The contender leaves.

Morgan Godfery, who is usually a staunch opponent of social conservatism, has penned a thoughtful and sympathetic tribute to Jones, essentially arguing why the identity politics critiques shouldn't apply to the departing politician - see: Shane Jones: the political obituary. This is because 'Maori political history isn't rich with choice. Telling us to wait for a more "progressive" candidate is deeply offensive'.

Finally, for some humour and visual history on the renegade politician, see my blog post Images of Shane Jones, David Slack's re-published Metro column Shane Jones: a two-pack habit and a motel tan and Scott Yorke's Good news, but enemies remain within the party.

- NZ Herald

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Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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