ELECTION2020_DIGIBANNER

ANALYSIS:

Shane Jones was the prophet preparing the ground for the messiah, preaching of riches to come as long as voters delivered to him the promised land.

That promised land isn't Northland, it's Parliament. The pathway to the promised land goes through Northland and if Jones can't win the electorate, NZ First looks unlikely to go any further.

Jones came to thump the drum like a Bible Belt preacher. The music that welcomed him to the stage at Forum North in Whangarei was Long Train Running by the Doobie Brothers.

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He came on with a little shuffle, a shimmy, then a bit of a boogie before hitting the microphone with his usual mix of self-adulation and self-deprecation.

"Today, there is only one Elvis and his name is Matua Shane," he told the crowd. That acknowledged the absent Presence.

Jones declared himself to be the "megaphone from Kaitaia" and told of how he never did read a speech. People nodded in agreement, because the power of his free-flowing oratory is well-known.

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But, said Jones, on this occasion "the leader, very well recovered, sent a message".

That message was, write a speech and make it a good one. Jones was to be deliberate in what he said, and to make sure the message got across. The prophet needed to speak because the messiah was absent. That day was meant to have been the day of the campaign launch for NZ First before "food poisoning symptoms" led to urgent surgery and an Absence.

So it was down to Shane Jones, launching his candidacy for the Northland electorate, alongside Whangarei candidate Dr David Wilson to about 300 party faithful. Wilson spoke first and got five minutes. Jones was the main event and got a half an hour.

The media was there, so evangelist Jones went about charming those snakes by attacking them, then drinking deadly things like political Kool Aid, knowing it would not harm him, all so he could lay hands on the sick provinces of New Zealand and bring healing we'ever he went.

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That's either the King James Bible - Mark 16:18 - or NZ First's 2020 election campaign playbook.

NZ First's Shane Jones brings on some fire and brimstone during his campaign launch at Forum North in Whangarei. Photo / Michael Cunningham
NZ First's Shane Jones brings on some fire and brimstone during his campaign launch at Forum North in Whangarei. Photo / Michael Cunningham

There was an Old Testament flavour to Jones' speech. There was smiting. "For far too long we have tolerated substandard National Party representation for our Northland area. No power or influence. No bite and, in fact, not even a decent bark."

The trick is always to punch up, not down, but with Northland politics, it's hard to work out where the gravity is.

Jones' campaign will be a planned version of what occurred organically in 2015 when NZ First took the seat. National's Mike Sabin had left Parliament, creating a byelection. The National Party decided the question of a byelection was best answered by an onslaught of ministerial limousines and a promise to build 10 bridges.

What that showed the electorate was that there were a lot of ministers who had never bothered visiting before, that there was money available to be spent and that the government knew so little about the North that it thought bridges were what everyone wanted.

The "taken for granted electorate", said one NZ Herald reader after reading today's meeting report.

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The National Party campaign in 2015 showed the electorate a governing party disconnected from Northland's provincial needs. It needed much more than bridges, as former National MP John Carter acknowledged in a 2018 interview. Looking back over 24 years in Parliament, he said "we could have done something 20 years ago that would have made a difference ... we could have but didn't".

Jones will be asking, what has National done for Northland? And then he will say, look at what I have done. Social media screamed pork-barrelling. Jones just smiled and threw money at the provinces.

NZ First's Shane Jones speaks to 300 people at Forum North in Whangarei, asking Northland voters to compare his achievements to the National Party's. Photo / Michael Cunningham
NZ First's Shane Jones speaks to 300 people at Forum North in Whangarei, asking Northland voters to compare his achievements to the National Party's. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Jones talked about the bridges at the meeting. Ten promised and two built, he said, and he's called those Winnie One and Winnie Two because NZ First's 2015 challenge was the only reason they got built at all.

What has any previous politician brought to the North, he asked? Closure of services? Economic deprivation? Intergenerational poverty?

And so this is what Jones will push to the electorate - that he will bring tangible benefits, that NZ First will have a seat at the Cabinet table and it will bring benefits to those who put it there.

Which, of course, it might not. Politics is not so simple an equation. Labour and the Greens might get there together. National might get the numbers and speak to NZ First in words that suggest it forget about the provinces.

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Does any party excite such fervour? Minutes after the meeting report went live on the NZ Herald website, emails arrived. Some praised Jones, most damned him. NZ First seems to make people feel something, even if it is just extreme irritation.

Jones' billboards cover the region with the slogan: "Jones for Jobs." Critics ask of Jones, how many jobs?

Jones might well reply, at the least, one more than the other guy.