Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Confident Jones hits his stride in northern heartland

Labour leadership hopeful Shane Jones greets a local Buddhist in Whangarei. Photo / Claire Trevett
Labour leadership hopeful Shane Jones greets a local Buddhist in Whangarei. Photo / Claire Trevett

In Shane Jones' heartland of Northland, the man himself is strolling down the street in Whangarei. He is supposed to be getting the votes of party members and union delegates. Instead he is hongi-ing a Buddhist monk and gently berating a group of teenagers for wandering aimlessly through the streets.

Meanwhile, his rivals for the Labour leadership, David Cunliffe and Grant Robertson, have spent much of the day meeting members in vote-rich Auckland, and trying to persuade union delegates to cast their votes for them.

The different days are characteristic of the different campaign approaches of Mr Jones and the others.

While they are campaigning to be leader of the Labour Party by focusing on union-friendly policies, he is trying to show people what he would be like as prime minister.

His campaign has prompted some mumblings that the rival camps think Mr Jones is taking too much attention. One MP says the response to Mr Jones from party members who have watched him in action is positive.

Mr Jones is unrepentant about the attention he is getting, saying Labour had asked for a contest and he had delivered. He describes the effect as "detonating the cosiness between the two primary candidates".

One of the reasons people think twice is the concern that he will put off female voters.

Mr Jones says he can't hide from the "dramas that have hobbled my career" and accepts that he will not be supported by some women in Labour's caucus.

He does not believe that the same view is held by women in general. During a walkabout, it is the women who toot and wave at him.

"Round Aotearoa I've always found I've been very popular with women. I've never been at the top of the hit parade with feminists. But the women I want to appeal to are the women who read the Woman's Weekly, not Germaine Greer."

He has resisted making the same big ticket promises as the others, saying what separates him from them is that he will not make unaffordable promises.

He describes the campaign as "a journey to redemption" for him, a chance to show he does deserve the "potential leader" tag that he was given from the start, despite his subsequent mistakes.

He observes that people love supporting the underdog.

"I am more popular, probably, among Kiwis who didn't vote Labour last time. I genuinely believe that by the end of this race, I will be the public champion."

He is unrepentant about his strong views. One is his support for the mining industry. "I'd rather have the young people of the north with a shovel in their hand than wandering around picking locks."

He says this should not be a shocking stance from someone in the Labour Party, as it was born from mining.

The other related issue is his view of the Green Party, which Labour may well need for a coalition. Mr Jones says his primary goal is to ensure Labour's polling has "a big fat 4 in front of it, not a half-baked 3". That entails recovering votes from the Greens.

"I want to see little brown Kiwis staying at home and not going to Australia. If that means offending the Greens from time to time, such is life."

- NZ Herald

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