Shane Jones and the Labour Leadership

I could be wrong, but …..

Politics is tribal. National is a tribe. Labour is a tribe. And they are not Maori tribes or anything remotely resembling Maori tribes, they are mainstream mostly Pakeha political tribes. And that distinction seems to be lost on all those Maori rooting for Shane Jones to become Labour leader. He hasn’t got a hope. Deputy leader perhaps if Labour thinks that might bring back all the Maori seats without losing Pakeha support in its electoral base.

You get to the top of Labour’s greasy pole firstly by building your own hapu within the hapu matua so that your hapu outnumbers all of the others. Some do it over whiskeys during late night male bonding sessions, some do it by trading favours and making promises they might or might not keep, some just by being nice guys, some by being bastards, some through their ability to attack and inflict damage on the opposing tribe, some through superior intelligence and competence, and a thousand other ways of manipulating the numbers. The ones who usually make it to the top of the pile use all or most of the above. Those who make it to the top without putting in the hard yards usually don’t stay there for long. Shane hasn’t put in enough of the hard yards.

Koro Wetere was a master. In his day Koro commanded the largest vote in the caucus when Cabinets were elected and was the first into Cabinet. But even with that huge support he was never a contender for leader or deputy leader. It took more than popularity. Parekura Horomia was a master, personable and hugely popular. Yet he was never a contender for leader or deputy leader. But popularity is a good place to start.

Shane Jones will never be as popular in a Labour caucus as those two. He starts behind the eight ball and like Cunliffe will have to get there despite his limited popularity. Which means he will have to work even harder and demonstrate superior political ability to get the numbers.

You don’t get to the top of Labour’s greasy pole because you’re Maori, and because heaps of Maori think it’s time a Maori did lead Labour after generations of loyal Maori support at the ballot box.. You get to the top of the pole because your caucus colleagues think you are the best electable potential prime minister they have, and if you lead them to victory you will keep them in power. You get to the top also because you promise to put your supporters on the front bench and that comes back to the numbers.

The traditional voting Labour support base was in the working class and their trade unions. That traditional base has eroded and much of it has gravitated to NZ First and National. It always had a large very conservative element. Much of it was and remains racist and anti-Maori. The modern support base now includes the educated liberal and progressive elites who vacillate between Labour and the Greens. To win elections Labour must somehow appeal to both sides of its constituency.

Political parties mostly win elections because the electorate gets fed up or bored with the other lot but they still have to appeal to the voting constitutency by presenting a credible and electable leader.

Shane is up against it. The conservative Pakeha base will never vote for a Maori prime minister, not yet they won’t, and the liberal Pakeha (and female) base will never vote for someone who presents himself as blokey, and is rightly or wrongly thought to be just a bit sexist. And you have to ask why some of the Maori women in caucus aren’t supporting him.

Shane Jones is in the wrong Pakeha tribe if he wants to be prime minister. He would probably do better in National.