And the Nobel Prize for rat cunning in neutralising an enemy force goes to ... Foreign Minister Murray McCully.

What better advertisement could McCully have put up to prove his suitability for New Zealand's campaign for the Security Council than his display of defusing Labour's weapon of mass destruction: Shane Jones.

A believer in silver linings could argue McCully was just trying to help by offering Jones a position that involved visits to temperate climes with palm trees, blue seas and lots of fishing. Labour had faced criticism for its failure to rejuvenate after National took out the steel-wired broom to winkle its more ornamental MPs out of Parliament. McCully to the rescue! But rather than detritus, Labour's broom went rogue and took out one of its key pieces of furniture, sweeping Shane Jones out the door and into the tender embrace of McCully.

Cunliffe's assurances Labour has other people to step into the gap left by Jones and that "nobody is irreplaceable" may be true. But good luck to him finding that replacement. In the short term there is no alternative Jones. Given the rigours of party discipline, it will take time and an amount of courage on the part of the person concerned before one pops up.


Even Jones did not become the Jones we now know until he had served more than six years in Parliament. His political career was less rising star than seesaw star, rocketing up and down at pace. He didn't just triumph over adversity but seemed to need adversity in order to triumph.

Perversely, the best side of his character came out as a result of the worst side of it in his efforts at redemption after using a ministerial credit card to watch porn. He showed strength again after the death of his good friend Parekura Horomia, stepping up as Labour's senior statesman among Maori.

The best of Shane Jones was shown during a leadership contest he knew he could not win. He nonetheless outperformed his rivals, delivering speeches rich with conviction and his usual thread of humour and showing what he might have been as prime minister. Jones is a bit like Wellington. You can't beat him on a good day.

Of late, he's had a lot of good days which was what surprised his colleagues about the timing of his decision to go. Things were going so swimmingly, even Jones' most trenchant critics on the left, Chris Trotter and Brian Edwards, were starting to have warm, fuzzy feelings about him, even pondering what he might be like as prime minister one day. But in his usual baffling contrary manner, just as most recognised Jones had hit the best form of his political career, he decided he was not giving it 100 per cent and was going.

There are others with similar belief sets to Jones — Clayton Cosgrove, Annette King, Phil Goff, David Shearer and Damien O'Connor spring to mind. None can express them the same way or speak to the same people. Watching Jones deliver a speech when he is on fire can be spine-tingling. Cosgrove effectively admitted that, likening the loss of Jones for Labour as "like losing Richie McCaw from the Crusaders".

At the moment there is only one politician who fills the same turf as Jones. That politician is NZ First leader Winston Peters, one of Jones' mentors. On a personal level, Peters will be sad to see his mate go. But any Labour supporters attracted to Labour by Jones' particular outlook on politics could well look to Peters now instead.

Labour now settles into a game of sweat and wait for the next polls.

Meanwhile, McCully managed to stay remarkably po-faced about his success at hobbling Labour's most threatening voice.


McCully's cunning is legendary and the true genius of this particular weasel becomes clear the more it is scrutinised. Jones has said the idea of such a position was his and he mentioned it to McCully two years ago. But it was McCully who decided there was suddenly an urgent need for a roving Pacific ambassador in time for a September conference of small island nations. That conference just happened to coincide with the general election. Although the Pacific has bubbled along without a Pacific Economic Ambassador since time immemorial, one was required and required now. It could not possibly wait for another six months.

So while Labour's candidates hit the hustings, Jones will be well out of the campaign melee and dispatched instead to do reconnaissance on a defunct cannery on Niue. Not only will he not be a direct player, but because he's a public servant he will effectively be gagged from chirruping away on the sidelines. As Labour candidate James Dann said on Twitter, in one masterstroke McCully has managed to reduce Jones from speaking truth to power to speaking truth to paua.