The left is in disarray as Shane Jones edges towards the exit door. There is still a month of this while Jones still sits in parliament and there isn’t a thing Labour can do as commentators and journalists pick through the entrails of an eviscerated Labour party.
Shane Jone’s controversial departure has exposed divisions in the Labour Party, with opinion split on his qualities as an MP and the impact it will have on election prospects.
Supporters say he broadened Labour’s appeal while critics say he was overrated and the party is better off without him.
Left-wing political scientist and commentator Dr Bryce Edwards said the split has been apparent in the wave of commentary in mainstream and social media since the news broke.
“You’ve got a lot of people debating about whether he was a plus or a minus for Labour, whether he was a working class hero for Labour and whether he attracted that so-called blue collar vote, and whether he was a misogynist.”
Edwards labelled it an “identity politics dispute”.
“People are really talking about what Labour stands for and with Jones going does that mean that Labour has more or less ability to speak to so-called middle New Zealand and to traditional Labour voters? And there doesn’t seem to be any strong consensus on that.”
Former Labour MP John Tamihere said Jones represented a Labour constituency that was increasingly being sidelined as interest groups gained greater control.
“The real debate isn’t about Shane Jones, it’s about certain sector groups in Labour having far too much say in advance, well in advance of their constituencies in the street.”
The party was becoming dominated by “liberal academic elites” more focused on social engineering issues such as the so-called anti-smacking law than issues such as creating jobs which had a broader voter appeal, he said.
Jones had “cut through” on the latter, earning support for his campaign against the Countdown supermarket chain, where his accusations of bullying of suppliers led to a Commerce Commission inquiry, as well as his pro-development stance. Tamihere said he reached out to voters turned off by factional politics.
Former Labour candidate Josie Pagani agreed, saying those in the party who had rejoiced in Jones leaving “are guilty of sectarianism at its worst”.
The division in the party was between those focused on social mobility and those focused on social engineering – “we’ll make you better off versus we’ll make you a better person,” she said.
The Labour Party was there to support wage earners and promote better jobs and higher wages “and that’s the thing that unites everybody”.