I am no expert on Māori politics, but it’s hard to see how the loss of Jones helps Labour.
Labour want to grow their Māori vote and recapture the Māori seats. Labour need Māori voices to do so. Jones is a capable and prominent Māori leader. Although Labour have capable Māori MPs, they simply do not have Jones’ profile. Now Labour (and the Labour left in particular) have driven away one of their most effective and prominent MPs; an MP who is proudly Māori, yet appeals to white working class voters.
The door is now open for National to claim Labour has lost its lock in Māoridom. They can even take it further and claim their party is better for Māori. As Morgan Godfrey (from mauistreet.blogspot.com) and Lew (from kiwipolitico.com) noted on twitter, Labour now only have three Māori MPs in their top 20. These are Nanaia Mahuta at #9, Louisa Wall at #16, and Moana Mackay at #18. Hardly rockstar performers, even with Wall’s marriage equality bill. National, on the other hand, are relatively strong. They also have three Māori MPs in their top 20, but they are Hekia Parata at #7, Paula Bennett at #9 and Simon Bridges at #18. In addition, they also have two Māori Party MPs as Ministers. Admittedly, Bridges and Parata haven’t performed that well, but this still amounts to five Māori Ministers, all with important portfolios and high profile.
Cries from the far left about Jones’ ideological impurity simply don’t cut it. As Morgan Godfrey argued in his excellent post ‘Shane Jones: the political obituary‘, “Maori political history isn’t rich with choice. Telling us to wait for a more “progressive” candidate is deeply offensive… Shane was an opportunity and one many – including myself – were willing to back. He wasn’t perfect, but he was as close as we’ve come in more than a decade to the centre of power… Forgive us for working with what we have.” Is this what the Labour left really wanted; to drive away Māori leaders who disagree with them? This is not a victory.
At the end of all of this Labour are left with one less capable Māori MP, and a shrinking claim to Māori votes. They may have just broken the crumbling 100-year edifice of Māoridom’s alignment with Labour.
The loss of Jones also speaks volumes about the ill-will in caucus. Labour’s chief press secretary apparently still didn’t know about Jones’ departure 15 minutes after it was announced on the 6 o’clock news. The fact that Jones didn’t seem interested in helping Labour stage-manage his departure and shape the narrative says a lot about feelings within the party. It’s hard to view the (mis)management of Jones’ departure as anything but a failure by the Labour leadership.