Jonathan Milne has taken a drive down the motorway away from the cloisters offices of the Herald on Sunday to interview Shane Jones.
What he comes away with is an admission that for all these years Shane Jones was a man living inside the wrong party.
The seeds of Jones’ decision to quit were sown two years ago. In mid-2012, then-Labour leader David Shearer stood him down while the Auditor-General investigated why Jones, as associate immigration minister five years before, had granted citizenship to Labour Party donor Bill Liu.
“I was highly pissed off about that,” Jones says. “That had a bloody visceral effect on me, actually, more than the credit card episode. I’ve never really fully admitted how much that jolted me.”
Jones was isolated from his Labour colleagues and felt he had few friends. “And Winston [Peters] came and found me and said, ‘you come with me’. If there was ever a point at a deeply personal level that I really respected Winston’s toughness, it was then.
“He was basically taking me under his wing to go through that ordeal. That counted for a lot. I’m quite a deep person in my own way, although I’ve got a big mouth. So I never forgot that.”
Ahhh the wily old fox Winston Peters, saw an opportunity. I wonder if anything will come of this?
Jones returned to Labour’s front bench in March last year, and a month later got the call that Parekura Horomia, the kaumatua of the Labour caucus, was on his deathbed.
He headed down to the East Coast, where Horomia was waiting in the front room of his small farmhouse in Mangatuna, Tolaga Bay. It was an intimate moment, as Horomia handed over leadership of Labour’s Maori caucus to Jones.
They spoke in Maori. Horomia said it was time for him to okioki – to rest. Jones replied: “Kia kaha chief, mo te iwi.”
It was, in part, out of a sense of duty to Horomia that Jones put his hand up for leader three months later. There were those who believed he could pull it off.
Indeed, still buried on the Labour Party website is a page prepared for the eventuality of a Jones victory. “Shane Jones is the 15th leader of the Labour Party, and the next Prime Minister of New Zealand,” it proclaims, boldly and prematurely.
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