Two years ago, Shane Jones returned to Parliament as a NZ First MP. He spoke to the NZ Herald about those telling-offs from the PM, which Green MP has got the measure of him, and what he wants out of a future coalition agreement.
NZ First MP Shane Jones is ramming chunks of kiwifruit into his mouth with a sharp kitchen knife.
An observation about the dangers of such a practice prompts a monologue in the first person:
"Jones was putting slices of kiwifruit in pursuit of a better dietary outcome with a dangerously sharp knife near his mouth and lips. There was some suggestion he'd cut his own tongue out."
Those hoping for such an outcome – metaphorically at least - may or may not include Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Ardern has had to put on a show of telling Jones off on several occasions.
They included the Regional Economic Development Minister's exuberant attacks on "corporate peacocks", to his comments to a forestry conference that they should vote for NZ First if they wanted the money to keep rolling into the industry.
The most recent example was over a photo of Jones on his holiday in Thailand using a gun that would be banned in New Zealand. He was supposed to have spent that holiday reading the Cabinet Manual.
Ardern's efforts have proved akin to wrestling the Hydra.
On each occasion, Jones issued promises to be better behaved in future.
On each occasion, he promptly forgot the promises.
Jones has been back in Parliament for two years; two years as a NZ First MP rather than the Labour MP he was for nine years between 2005 and 2014.
He left when Labour was in Opposition to go and be a diplomat for three years. He had sorely tested some in Labour, so it is fair to say it was a mutually beneficial uncoupling.
He was lured back into politics by Peters and the prospect of the limelight once again.
The liberation NZ First affords him suits him just fine.
"It is not a party that is beholden to either the union movement, or perhaps responsible for being standard-bearers of political correctness."
Now, he says, he is "very happy".
"The type of leadership exhibited by Winston Peters in our caucus is not micromanagement. There is an assumption that someone my age – 60 years old – battle-scarred, has already learnt the rules, learnt the boundaries. And that suits my style well."
He admits others may disagree that he lives up to this assumption. But he does not give a fig for the PM's scoldings.
"Whilst it may have not made for flash reading for my status as a Kaitaia sort of ageing tyro, the bottom line is it doesn't bother me.
She has to do her role. And I think in a couple of cases, I have to wear it."
He proceeds to do this by re-litigating the forestry event, saying he had given the same pitch many times before.
His defence is that he did not literally bribe anyone.
"But I did say 'if you want this sort of kaupapa, this sort of Crown fiscal commitment to your industry, then back it, and I'm the only guy on offer'.
"So it was pretty much as was reported to her. But I give those speeches on a regular basis and I don't think that's bribing. But the Cabinet Manual is definitely against that."
Asked if the scoldings have any effect given they only seem to egg him onto worse behaviour, he more or less admits Ardern is fighting a lost cause.
"Winston Peters describes me as reflecting character. Character in personality, and character in content. I'm just not going to change being comfortable with seeking out headlines."
He then turns on the hand that feeds, adding in a gratuitous "to the extent that New Zealand media will remain relevant to reporting politics".
"I'm just not going to change. And from time to time those headlines might annoy people but they don't reflect any deep problem. They reflect the fact I am a politician of character, of colour. And stand by, because there is lots more to come."
Others who might wish that vegetable knife would slip could include some big corporates.
Jones' trademark has become his attacks on the big corporates he has taken a dislike to.
They include Fonterra, Spark, Air New Zealand and various "Australian-owned" banks.
Then came the "foreign-owned forestry companies" which he blamed for dobbing him in for using a forestry convention to put in a pitch for votes.
He says he was proven right in every instance – from his claim former Air NZ CEO Chris Luxon would stand for National, to Fonterra's investments, to the Rugby World Cup rights "being a vanity project for Spark CEO Simon Moutter".
"And I've never had any apologies from the breathless reporters who said I should have been sacked. Every single one has come to pass."
His pot shots could be considered unhelpful to business confidence as the business sector tries to adjust to the sometimes unpredictable shape of the Coalition Government.
Jones says business confidence is driven by small and medium businesses, and he only has nice things to say about those. "I am their pin-up boy. They love me."
Anyone who dares criticise him back is dismissed as a National Party stooge.
But Jones is the National Party's best hope of a future relationship, and he does have some dreams his current coalition partner does not necessarily share which involve roads.
He wants to sort out State Highway 2 north of Tauranga, and the proposed Penlink route to Whangaparaoa north of Auckland: "And it may not surprise you to know that we want both rail and roads in Tai Tokerau. I'm going to need better roads when the port re-locates out of Auckland."
That port plan, too, is as yet little more than a very expensive pipe-dream. But Jones is an optimist.
"It takes a while to build roads, so nothing much is going to happen before the next election. But after the next election, if we have the mandate then that mandate will be sealed with tarmac."
These dreams are also partly the reason the Green Party has an awkward relationship with Jones.
While both love trees, Jones also likes roads and mines and other such things. The Greens do not.
Jones is also keen to use some Department of Conservation land for Provincial Growth Fund projects and forestry.
Green MP Eugenie Sage is the Minister of Conservation, and this may have led to some invigorating exchanges which could he heard from some distance away. It also seems she has the measure of him.
"I get along very well with James [Shaw]. I think if you ask any of them, they will say I have been nothing but professional with them.
"My level of influence over Eugenie as a fellow politician is zero.
"My batting average there is not good at all. But I treat her with the utmost respect."
Asked if the same could be said of Sage's treatment of him, he laughs. "She probably treats me as she sees me."
When this is put to Sage, she opts to focus on the areas they have agreed on, such as waste minimisation and native tree planting.
"Shane Jones and I don't always agree. Neither of us are shy about sharing our views.
"You always know where you stand with Shane and I respect him for that, and admire his oratory."
Then there is Jones and the media. When it comes to the media, Peters and Jones are good cop and bad cop.
Jones courts the media attention. Peters thrives on it, but puts on a display of fighting it every step of the way.
Jones says he lacks Peters' "lineage" and has always believed that to get the message out it is critical to cultivate the right relationship with the media.
"But know this from me: as they burnish you, they can garnish you for a bloody feast as well. I've had personal experience with that.
"At one level they can build a halo around you. And at another level they can bring you perilously, fatally close to the hangi stones and cook you. Hmm."
The interview was on the day Peters and Newshub's Mark Richardson exchanged insults after Peters said "good riddance" following the news Newshub was for sale.
Jones, put in a position of either backing his boss or courting the media, opts for the first.
He has this to say of poor Richardson:
"I think Mark is a case where a personality has been created inversely related to intelligence. I don't think he has any training, any authority to comment on current affairs. He may have been a maiden bowler, but in my view his ability to influence New Zealand politics is zero. So I don't give him much thought at all."
This uncharacteristic grumpiness could be because Jones is on a diet.
The endless stream of Provincial Growth Fund announcements, launches and events, the morning teas and afternoon teas have taken their toll.
He has hit 129kg, so his wife Dot Jones (who can boss him around with more effect than Ardern) put him under orders.
It is why he is eating kiwifruit with his knife.
The detritus of previous diets is littered around his office, indicating the new diet will not necessarily be a success.
He picks up a half-empty packet of rice cakes and reads the "best before" date. It is April 2019.
The only other person who can boss Jones around is Peters.
When Jones is asked about succession in NZ First, he starts frantically shovelling kiwifruit into his mouth with his sharp knife again.
He won't even let the question end, such is the sacrilegious nature of it.
"Oh, we don't speculate or talk about in any shape or form the leadership or succession in NZ First. Malaysia has a very sturdy leader, he is the age of 92 or 93."
He laughs in some panic when it is emphasised that the question was not when Peters would go, but rather how long Jones could wait.
"No, no. I am very much a pillion passenger. I have nothing to add for fear of wandering into some tapu area, where there are unexploded mines."
The question may well be redundant anyway if NZ First strikes out in 2020.
He will carry some of the weight of trying to get the party back into Parliament – and prove himself a worthy successor to Peters.
He pretends he is not worried about the polls, which put NZ First around 3 or 4 per cent.
He has decided that the lesson of historic examples of smaller parties being squashed out after terms in government is "a backwards looking view".
He says he does not want to speak ill of his Government buddies, but makes it clear he is relying on voters baulking at the prospect of a Labour–Green government which does not feature NZ First.
"But I doubt that there's a market out there for a pure Green-Labour concoction. But that's not my decision. It's a decision for the voters.
"So I'm going to continually promote the fact that we are unique, we are distinctive and we will hold the balance of power."
The insurance policy against the 5 per cent threshold is securing an electorate seat.
Jones is tipped to stand in Northland, but he will be up against National's Matt King and may need a helping hand from Labour after King reclaimed the seat from Peters in 2017.
Jones points out he has stood there in the past "and they have not showered me with electoral affection".
"Look, I am comfortable with guns. We see Matt [King] in the seat of Northland as the white elephant. And if I have the chance to stand in that seat, then we will throw everything including the kitchen sink into giving a credible choice to the voters from Mangawhai, Dargaville, Bay of Islands to Spirits Bay."
Guns, elephants and kitchen sinks are quite some election strategy.