In recent weeks Shane Jones has been doing a number of things, in the House, in the mainstream media, and on social media, that have done a lot to re raise his profile after his unsuccessful tilt at the Labour Leadership last year. Shane is a Labour list MP based in the Upper North Island. He is a third term MP, having first been elected to Parliament in 2005. He is a former chair of the Waitangi Fisheries Commission.
First some background to what has happened over the last 9 months. David Shearer resigned as leader of the Labour Party at the end of August last year, there was a leadership election and David Cunliffe was elected leader.
So far we are two months into election year, and most likely 9 months at most out from the election, and Labour are still where they were in the polls before the resignation of David Shearer in August 2013, 1 and 2. They have had at least one major policy announcement so far this year, and it was not a great success, with a number of flaws being found in the way the policy was presented.
It is with this background that we now turn to Shane Jones and his presence on Twitter. Shane has not been on Twitter very long, he has only sent 291 Tweets, but has over 2000 followers. His biography on Twitter reads as follows:
Kia ora, Labour List MP. Follow me and my brand of politics, am keen to engage with my fellow tweeters. Authorised by me – Shane Jones MP
The inclusion of the term “my brand of politics” is interesting. I believe he sees himself as being a clean break with the style of politics that has been practiced over the last 10-15 years in the Labour party. A style of highly controlled media management and image projection. I believe that Shane is alluding to a style of politics more closely aligned with the style that has given rise to John Key’s ongoing high standing in the polls. A style of very personal, and personality orientated, politics. Where the real Shane Jones shines through.
Now lets turn to the signs I believe are pointing to a possible leadership challenge from Shane in the future. It is obvious that Shane had leadership aspirations. He put his hand up during the Labour leadership contest last year. During which he had the following to say:
Mr Jones told TV ONE’s Breakfast the qualities these people should be looking at is who can win the “Test match (election) next year, not the Ranfurly Shield (Labour leader contest) we are dealing with at the moment”.
“I’ve had my ups and downs throughout my career but most of my colleagues know that at the end of the day no one wants to spend another hour in opposition.
“Pick the wrong person and opposition could be a permanent camp.”3
Even back in August last year, Shane saw the aim of the contest as placing Labour in the strongest position possible to win the election. Now there has been speculation about Labour MPs talking about, or actually, implementing a go slow in relation to the election. The theory being that if Cunliffe oversees a big enough Labour party defeat, he can be rolled and replaced quickly. Which would be more difficult with a narrow defeat.
Could it be that Shane Jones is taking the opposite tack to his Caucus colleagues? Could it be that Shane is trying to either help Labour actually have a chance at winning, or be lining himself up for a leadership challenge, after, or maybe before the election?
On the same day that Shane started making noise about the inclusion of a new rule requiring Auckland property owners to seek iwi approval to work on sites of cultural and heritage value to Maori 4, Waateanews.com, the radio station run by the Urban Maori Authority, ran an opinion article entitled “Shane Jones on fire in 2014“. This article includes a quote:
And doesn’t Labour need Jones at the moment? Their leader David Cunliffe has made a weak start to the political year in direct contrast to his opposite John Key who has started the year firing on all cylinders.
Shane joined Twitter on 31 July, which is only 3 weeks before David Shearer resigned the Labour leadership, by which time there was already much discussion of his future in that position. In the first month, Shane sent around 66 Tweets or retweets. Which is around 1/4 of his total as at 1740 28 February. In late August through early September Shane was sending 4, 5, 6 or more Tweets a day. This dropped off in the days leading up to the actual vote, most likely due to time pressure as he was out meeting delegates. However the Tweets that were sent were the sort of Tweet destined to encourage engagement, containing images or quotes about where he saw Labour going under his leadership.
Shane stuck with being a reasonably active Tweeter up until the end of September, after that his rate of Tweeting dropped off. With days missed in late October, and then nearly 2 weeks without a Tweet from 20 October to 1 November. Tweeting remained rather sparse through November, with a few flurries, but a number of days with no Tweets. This sparse nature remained the norm for December.
However, Shane obviously took the New Year as a time to revitalise his Twitter presence. With 56 Tweets sent in January, including a number with images of what he was up to around the country. So far in February, a short month, he has sent 32 Tweets. This may seem low when you consider his allegations about supermarkets, but it must be remembered, he raised those under Parliamentary Privilege.
When you look at the some of the Tweets that he has been sending, there appears to be a concerted effort to raise his profile on a number of fronts, as well as an attempt to prove he has skills that other senior Labour MPs lack.
Shane Jones excels at getting out on the street and connecting with average voters. He has an ability to talk to people from all walks of life. Can anyone imagine seeing David Cunliffe out on a boat fishing in the Bay of Islands?
Shane obviously understands the role of Twitter and that it is a way to get ideas and views out there, direct to people, without needing the media. Though he is very apt at using the media as well, as laid out below.
Shane looks to have found another topic, like the supermarkets issue, that will resonate with “Waitakere Man”, Chris Trotter’s mythical demographic that helped National win the 2008 election. Waitakere man is the sort of person that Labour need to appeal to again to have a chance of winning the next election. In 2011 it was Waitakere man, and their ilk all around the country, who were one of the key demographics that didn’t get out and vote. This position also positions his Labour brand of politics as being opposed to (some) red tape.
So looking at Shane’s actions as a whole since the start of the New Year, we have a renewed presence on Twitter, with the use of images to help increase reach. We have his use of Parliamentary Privilege to raise issues around the actions of one of the major supermarket chains in New Zealand. Now he has also jumped in on the issue of iwi approval of resource consents in Auckland. The Supermarket story was the lead story on the news networks for a number of days, including in-depth reports on Campbell Live. The issue of iwi approval of resource consents has only just come up today, so only time will tell how much traction that gains. However I believe the signs are clear, Shane Jones is undertaking a long term game, preparing for another tilt at the Labour leadership. Now it is too early to predict if this will happen before or after the election.
If David Cunliffe is not able to generate more traction in the next 3 months, it is highly possible there will be an increase in dissatisfaction, both in the membership and the caucus. Are people like Grant Robertson, Trevor Mallard, Phil Goff, Annette King, Sue Moroney and Clare Curran really interested in spending another 3 years opposition just to have a chance to get rid of David Cunliffe.
1 Curia Blog http://curiablog.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/one-news-colmar-brunton-poll-july-2013/
2 Curia Blog http://curiablog.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/one-news-colmar-brunton-poll-february-2014/
4 NZ Herald Website. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11211496