I had the good fortune get an invitation to Shane and Dot Jones' party earlier this week which I accepted with alacrity.

This gathering has become an annual precursor to the Waitangi Day celebrations in the Far North and for any politician or political hanger-on like me, it's a not to be missed occasion.

I've watched Shane Jones' career with considerable fascination for many years and was partly instrumental in recruiting him as a Labour MP at a dinner with the then Prime Minister Helen Clark sometime in 2004.

Shane has a splendidly varied lineage reflecting the history of the Far North where he grew up which includes a good dose of Maori and Dalmatian with touches of Welsh and English.

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He's magnificently fluent in both te reo Māori and English and as a former English teacher a broad and rich vocabulary like Shane's is something that impresses me without fail.

This gift of getting just the right word every time is shared by both former Prime Minister Helen Clark and our current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, but you will have noticed is sadly absent from current National Party Leader, Simon Bridges.

Armed with a Harvard University master's degree, Shane first came to most people's attention when he untangled a series of seemingly insoluble problems as chairman of the Waitangi Fisheries Commission and I was not surprised that Helen Clark put him at the top of her must-have list of recruits.

In 2004-5 Shane's achievements, the strong support of Helen Clark and a bit of backroom dealing by myself and a couple of my mates was enough to get Shane a winnable place on the Labour Party's list for the 2005 general election and he entered Parliament that year.

By 2007 Shane Jones was a Cabinet Minister in the third term of the Helen Clark Labour-led government that held power through an agreement with his fellow Northlander and friend Winston Peters' New Zealand First Party.

With the defeat of the Clark government in 2008 Shane became an effective opposition MP and in 2013 ran for the leadership of the Labour Party under the new process which by then involved the broader Labour Party membership.

If the choice of the new Leader had been made on the strength of the speeches alone at the selection meetings, Shane would have won the job at a canter but it wasn't to be and in 2015 he retired from Parliament to become a roving ambassador to the Pacific, with a special focus, he told me at the time, of getting the island nations better deals for their fishery resources.

This appointment was, of course by a National Party minister, Murray McCully, yet another Northlander.

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At the time it was seen as a masterstroke which deprived the Labour Party of one of its most effective attack MPS, but now must seem like a move National views with some reservation.

The election of 2017 saw Shane back in Parliament as a list MP for the New Zealand First Party and a senior Minister in the Labour/ New Zealand First Coalition Government.

He had the good grace to call me in advance of his announcement that he'd joined NZ First and would be running for that party in the electorate of Whangarei and though I told him that I'd rather have heard he'd be running for Labour, I could see the sense of his career move and I wished him luck.

He did well in his first outing in that electorate, stripping 10 per cent of the vote off the National Party MP and coming within 100 votes of the Labour candidate for a credible third place.

The usually erratic Northland weather smiled on Shane's party on Monday and the kai moana that was presented to guests in seemingly endless supply was just superb.

Most of the NZ First caucus was there, along with a large phalanx of Labour MP's as well as at least three National and former National MPs.

This turnout underlined Shane's value to NZ First. To be credible in the next election campaign, New Zealand First as a self-anointed centre party will need to run as a potential coalition partner for both Labour and National.

Shane has the cross-party connections and track record to make this offer credible.

With his multi-billion-dollar Provincial Growth Fund, he's also a key to the New Zealand First strategy of cresting the 5 per cent threshold in the party vote in the 2020 general election by eroding the National Party's vote in regional New Zealand in favour of NZ First.

This is a National Party nightmare and it's what happened when National slumped to 21 per cent of the party vote in 2002.

Still in his 50s, Shane still has a lot of gas left in his tank.

Watch this space!


Mike Williams grew up in Hawke's Bay. He is CEO of the NZ Howard League and a former Labour Party president. All opinions are his and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.