Narrowing focus for Labour

Shane Jones.
Shane Jones.
Much has been made of the decision by Labour MP Shane Jones to depart Parliament to take up a job which seems to have been created for him by Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully.

Playing up to the time Mr Jones distinguished himself as chairman of the Waitangi Fisheries Commission, Mr McCully (the architect of many National Party black operations) shoulder-tapped the Labour MP for a new role as a roving economic ambassador across the Pacific.

Mr Jones is expected to leave Parliament soon with Kelvin Davis, a former leading educationalist, set to return as the next MP on the Labour list.

Mr Davis, like Mr Jones, was tipped to be a rising Maori star for Labour, but at the last election, he was given an unelectable position on the list and returned to his Northland home to lick his wounds.

Left-wing commentators have written plenty of words saying the departure of Mr Jones means Labour will lose touch with the so-called ''blue collar supporter''.

This is not correct.

More than likely, the departure of Mr Jones will mean Labour will have less access to the business community.

The Harvard-educated Mr Jones created a wide network of contacts and friends among the business community during his time on the Waitangi Fisheries Commission.

If anything, the loss of his contacts will hurt Labour in boardrooms, not shop floors.

The departure of Mr Jones does though leave Labour in some disarray.

MPs like deputy leader David Parker, Damien O'Connor and Clayton Cosgrove will find themselves more marginalised as other sectors of the party continue to dominate.

Very few in its caucus have a business background, giving rise to calls Labour is lurching to the left in an effort to take Green votes.

Labour has not drastically changed its policy of defending workers' rights, seeking to defend the shrinking number of people on beneficiaries and ''punishing'' the rich through higher taxes and a proposed capital gains tax.

There has been no massive change to the values of Labour, just the perceptions of the party.

What has changed, Labour seems yet to realise, is many former supporters are making their own way in the world and can no longer relate to the party.

Mr Davis, for all of his strengths, is yet another former public servant, albeit it a former high school principal, without the benefit of boardroom links.

He does have the benefit of being Maori, at a time when Labour desperately needs inroads back into Maoridom, but he lacks the mana Mr Jones held.

Mr Jones turned down opportunities to stand in the Auckland-based seat of Tamaki Makaurau, a seat pundits felt he was sure to win with the retirement of Maori Party MP Pita Sharples.

As he said, it was time to go.

Labour was caught by surprise by the timing of Mr Jones' decision, but that was the fault of the party, not Mr Jones.

Labour is still a party of factions, and the smaller the party membership, the more powerful the factions have become.

Mr Jones did not want to work with the Greens.

If Labour needed New Zealand First to help form a government after the election, Mr Jones could have gone to leader Winston Peters and said let bygones be bygones.

The link between Labour and NZ First may disappear with Mr Jones.

Labour is left with fewer options now.

There are some in Labour - particularly those he refers to as the geldings - who will be pleased he is going.

But the party now seems to be back in survival mode.

Losing Mr Jones is something of a mixed blessing as Labour will have some renewal in its line-up, but unfortunately not with the MPs who should go.

What his decision to leave does say about Labour is the party has become too narrow to accommodate people like Mr Jones, and perhaps many other New Zealanders.

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