Shane Jones joining New Zealand First is an important part of the Winston Peters plan for power.

It is one of several factors likely to keep the party on its upward trajectory, mainly at the expense of Labour.

The former Labour MP will help Peters peel off Labour leaners for whom personality is more important in leadership than anything else and who just can't adjust to Andrew Little.

Jones will also help peel off Labour-leaning blokes who think the party is too "politically correct" - which is really code for too much control by feminists and gays.

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And Jones will help to boost support for New Zealand First in the regions and among Maori. He is widely admired in Maoridom for his command of te reo and is considered one of its best orators. He has a microscopic knowledge of Northland tribal history and families and, like Peters, he was raised in Northland on a dairy farm.

New Zealand First is on a roll. In its heyday, 1996, the party gained 13.35 per cent and 17 MPs. It is probably past that point already with just under three months to go to the election.

The thing that could slow the party's roll was Peters' own doing.

His call last week for Bill English to resign over the Barclay affair was not the smartest thing to do for a party out to maximise its vote.

 Former Labour MP Shane Jones joining New Zealand First will help Winston Peters peel off Labour leaners who think the party has become too
Former Labour MP Shane Jones joining New Zealand First will help Winston Peters peel off Labour leaners who think the party has become too "politically correct". Photo / Peter de Graaf

It implies an unwillingness to work with English and, by default, implies a preference for Labour, which could well put off light blue voters falling Peters' way.

Jones has strong relationships within National and Labour and could work equally well with both, if he had a good enough job. If Foreign Affairs were not available, he could be suited to Primary Industries.

Assuming New Zealand holds the balance of power and will determine the next Government, Jones would be the only person other than Peters himself to have had ministerial experience and can also be expected to have a reasonable role in coalition negotiations.

There is some internal resentment about Jones but his move along time in the planning and it gives Peters more options for succession planning.

They will come to accept that his electoral appeal trumps their personal insecurities.

Former Foreign Minister and National strategist Murray McCully was credited with luring Jones away from politics to a diplomatic posting for National's own ulterior motive.

National did not fear David Cunliffe who had been elected Labour leader to replace David Shearer. What it feared more was the prospect of Cunliffe failing and being replaced by Jones.

Winston Peters' call last week for the PM to resign over the Barclay affair implies an unwillingness to work with him and could put off light blue voters falling NZ First's way. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Winston Peters' call last week for the PM to resign over the Barclay affair implies an unwillingness to work with him and could put off light blue voters falling NZ First's way. Photo / Michael Cunningham

The only window for that to happen last term would have been in the three-month regulated period before the 2104 election, the only period in which the Labour caucus can elect a leader without a wider party membership vote, but by then Jones had gone. And he was not around for the contest that Little won.

Prime Minister Bill English tempted fate this week when he said National would win Whangarei by a long way. That was reminiscent of John Key saying that Peters did not have a dog's show of winning the Northland byelection.

Whangarei may be a close-run thing, despite the current National majority of 13,169. New Zealand First candidate Brian Donnelly fell short by only 383 votes in 1996.

English got one thing right this week when he said Shane Jones had made the wrong choice in standing for Labour in the first place.

Jones had been courted by both National and Labour and National was a better fit. But National's courtship occurred in the dying days of the Bolger-Shipley Government.

And Jones had more important fish to fry at the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission before embarking on a political career in 2005.

Shane Jones, widely admired in Maoridom for his command of te reo and considered one of its best orators, will help to boost NZ First support in the regions and among Maori. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Shane Jones, widely admired in Maoridom for his command of te reo and considered one of its best orators, will help to boost NZ First support in the regions and among Maori. Photo / Michael Cunningham

The party assiduously not courting Jones in those years was New Zealand First.

Winston Peters has not always been a Jones fan. He was suspicious of Jones' fisheries settlement role, a hellishly complicated job of working how to distribute a $700 million fisheries settlement among iwi.

Peters had opposed the original 1992 fisheries deal but eventually supported the 2004 settlement arrived at by Jones and other commissioners.

The main reason Jones went with Labour was because it was in Government at the time and he was in a hurry to get his mitts on power.

While Jones may have been able to sign up for a National Party under John Key, a Don Brash National Party after the Orewa speech would have been a step too far.

In the event, Jones had only one year as a minister before Labour lost power and has harboured a sense of unfulfilled ambition since then.

Peters was tipped out of Parliament altogether for three years after a donations scandal in which he sought funds from businessman Owen Glenn, denied doing so, and failed to properly declare it.

If NZ First becomes the kingmaker after September's election, Shane Jones would be the only person in the party other than Winston Peters with ministerial experience. Photo / Michael Cunningham
If NZ First becomes the kingmaker after September's election, Shane Jones would be the only person in the party other than Winston Peters with ministerial experience. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Jones' relationship with Peters strengthened over six years. They gave each other solace and support - for Peters during his time in purgatory and Jones during his second term in Opposition when he was stood down from the front bench during an Auditor General's report into his approving Bill Liu for citizenship even though he was wanted by Interpol and officials advised against it.

Liu has since been convicted for money laundering, which somewhat technically weakens Winston Peters' criticism of National for letting the law-abiding US investor Peter Thiel into New Zealand under the exceptional cases category.

In reality, a little bit of inconsistency has never done Peters much harm, except in 2008 when excuses and reality were just too far apart. Peters' supporters have a similar attitude to Trump's.

What matters more is the way he campaigns. He paints an image of a glorious bygone era that has fallen victim to the wicked ways of Government, convinces voters they are victims and that he is their salvation, as he is doing in his campaign in the provinces, many of which are thriving.

There are hard-luck stories everywhere, even in the cities. But statistics show that 12 of the 15 regions are experiencing economic growth, and that one of the biggest concerns is lack of skilled people to fill the expanding workforce.

But as experience shows you can go a long way in politics by sheer force of personality and Peters and Jones both have that.

Shane Jones joins NZ First. Illustration / Guy Body
Shane Jones joins NZ First. Illustration / Guy Body