Shane Jones returned to Parliament with two poly bins of crayfish, a vow to be "more mellow" and "a plan".

It is the first time he's been allowed out of Whangarei in three months - his new overlord NZ First leader Winston Peters had ordered him to stay in the north to campaign.

"I'm relieved to be back, but I do have a plan," he tells the Herald. "I just need to be a bit more mellow and not so much as a media harlot as I was in the past. I will struggle with that."

The fact he has declared this during a media interview on just his second day signifies he will indeed struggle. But it has been a long time between harlot opportunities for him.


He has been out of the limelight for more than three years after leaving his role as a Labour MP in Parliament in 2014 to take up a role as Pacific Economic Ambassador.

It taught him some tricks, it seems, including the arts of knowing his place and knowing when to shut up.

He has also been a quick learner of the NZ First game of "Winston Says".

Asked which dish he would choose from the array Peters and his caucus now face for government talks, Jones - a former Labour MP with friends across the spectrum - starts playing:

"Winston says there are nine ways this cat can be skinned and I haven't given any major thought to what role I would best play. I back myself, I've always backed myself and sure, I get along well with both sides. But Winston, he speaks with the full authority of our caucus when he says there are nine ways to skin a cat."

Jones has strong links to Labour but a three-way marriage isn't necessarily attractive. He has no affection for the Green Party - once calling Gareth Hughes a "mollymawk."

"I had absolutely no time for Skippy [Russel Norman]," Jones says. "The reality is I'm pro-industry. In my area, they've got too narrow a view in terms of mining and other issues. I do believe that."

Asked about working with them, he says he has nothing to say: "I'll leave that to our rangitira Winston to work out."


Peters might not always find Jones so amenable behind closed doors. There are elements of NZ First's policies that do not sit easily with Jones' former politics - such as a referendum on the Maori seats.

The night before the interview, Peters had appeared to softening on his calls for a referendum on the Maori seats, saying the Maori Party had been kicked out of Parliament.

"The election result speaks for itself," Jones says. "There's a salutary lesson there. These small parties, they struggle to remain a permanent feature of politics."

He appears to have forgotten he is now in a "small" party himself - NZ First came in with 7.5 per cent of the vote and nine MPs. Jones is the eighth.

He is even starting to talk like Peters - asked if he was worried NZ First would suffer the same fate if it was in government with National or Labour, he shrugs.

"I can't see in the short term how we're going to get around that problem. But the facts are clear - we are on our way to a two-party state."

In the end, he made it and NZ First's party vote in Whangarei was about 14 per cent, the highest it was anywhere, and slightly higher than in 2014 despite the nationwide drop in the party's polling. Jones was the second-highest-polling candidate, with more than 6000 votes, although National's Shane Reti was more than 10,000 ahead of him.