Jones’ work has admirers at the highest level. Listening to him speak at last week were Prime Minister John Key, ministers Paula Bennett, Tariana Turia and Georgina Te Heu Heu and National’s sole Pasifika MP, Sam Lotu-Iiga. Key spoke later, in a similar inspirational vein. But it was Jones who spoke from the heart.
Key’s high-powered retinue made it clear he was redoubling the effort he made before the last election to get Jones to stand for Parliament on the National ticket.
Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey, who has watched Jones for 20 years, says he “could go very far” in politics if he chooses to.
He compares the great flanker to former Prime Minister Norman Kirk. “I have always felt their voice is similar, their phraseology, their quiet and forceful delivery,” he says.
“I think he’s an extraordinary New Zealander. I think he’s got another life. I think that life is saving New Zealand and I would just love to see him run.”
Jones is taking Key’s overtures seriously and is consciously stepping up to leadership.
Jones would be a massive addition to National’s ranks, if he chose to stand. Not because he is a former All Black (some say our greatest), but because he is has always been such an inspirational personality. His record of community service is second to none.
Jones’ Christian moral values have always placed him on the right politically. He opposed Labour’s civil unions law and Sue Bradford’s anti-smacking law, and fronted advertisements for Christian Heritage in 2002.
But he also grew up with Maori families in Te Atatu, learnt te reo Maori at university and spoke out against former National leader Don Brash’s attack on “race-based funding” in 2004. He warmed to National when Key took over and asked him to stand in 2008.
“I got to know John Key in that period and I liked what I saw, not only in terms of his leadership style. “I really sensed that his aspiration was to bring all New Zealanders forward, including Pacific people,” he says.
What would be interesting, is not just if Jones stands, but will he contest a seat? The two logical seats he might contest is Te Atatu or New Lynn.
New Lynn had National just 0.1% behind Labour on the party vote, but a larger 12% gap on the electorate vote. However I think it is fair to say Tim Groser was running a party vote campaign, not trying to win the seat personally.
In terms of ethnic profile, New Lynn is 58% European, 23% Asian, Pacific 12% and Maori 9%.
Te Atatu saw National marginally ahead in the party vote, but Chris Carter win the electorate vote by 17%.
However Te Atatu is even more ethnically diverse with 18% Pacific, 16% Maori and 17% Asian.
I think there is a very reasonable chance that Michael Jones could win either seat. Carter’s reputation has been damaged by the focus on his overseas travel, and he may of course retire. Cunliffe will not be retiring, but he has a smaller majority to defend.