When Labour MP Shane Jones announced he is bringing his Parliamentary career to an early end, my mind turned to one of the best bits of Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
In the scene, the protagonist approaches a group of political subversives and asks, “Are you the Judean People’s Front?” The subversives take umbrage to that suggestion as they actually belong to the People’s Front of Judea.
There’s no way the People’s Front of Judea would ever consort with the Judean People’s Front! The joke was a biting commentary on the tendency of political activists to splinter and for the various factions to then marginalise each other.
One of the many hilarious parts of that movie. Have watched it at least 20 times.
Actually, I’m not sure that this really is an immediate disaster for David Cunliffe.
Labour is not going to win the election without making a significant accommodation with the Greens. An economic moderate, Jones has publicly chafed at that idea. He even avoided responding to a question about whether National would be preferable to a Labour – Green coalition in an interview this weekend.
So for all of Jones’ talents, it’s probably better for leader David Cunliffe not to have to manage such a forthright Greens sceptic in his caucus during this particular election campaign.
So might be good for Cunliffe.
That being said – and as I’ve written before – the political interests of David Cunliffe and the Labour Party do not always match exactly. If Cunliffe fails to win this election, he’s toast – he won’t get a second chance.
The Labour Party, on the other hand, will survive and go on to fight other campaigns.
Taking that longer view, the (admittedly self-imposed) exile of Shane Jones appears to be symptomatic of a general narrowing of the Labour Party. The man himself has basically claimed this, saying that he regretted not doing “…due diligence to discover how much the Labour Party had changed…” before becoming an MP.
That was a very telling comment.
All successful political parties are an alliance of different constituencies. Those on the Left can typically be broken down into what is known in American politics as the “wine track” and the “beer track.”
These descriptors are generalisations, of course, but they are convenient and evocative as political shorthand.
The wine track roughly corresponds with the metropolitan middle classes. These are people who usually have tertiary qualifications and who are often relatively secure economically.
They are politically engaged and are proud about their social concern. They are scrupulously politically correct (even if they hate that term).
Of the present Labour caucus, think of Wellington Central’s Grant Robertson or list MP Jacinda Ardern as being roughly representative of this group.
Those on the beer track are less concerned with politics day-to-day. They are economic battlers and their principal concern is the security and aspirations of their family and friends. They are less apt to get directly involved in politics or social crusading. In a politician, they are less concerned with political philosophy and tend to support people they feel are on their side.
Here, one might picture (along with the retiring Jones) West Coast MP Damian O’Connor.
The wine track vs the beer track. Powerful images.
There are legitimate objections to Shane Jones credentials as some kind of working class hero – he is a Harvard alumnus, after all.
Nevertheless, it is worth noting how his critics have bristled at his “blokey” persona.
Labour-aligned consultant Brian Edwards has trashed him as a “Crass, sexist [vulgarian].” Greens Co-Leader Merita Turei said he is ” . . . a 19th century man in a 21st century world . . . ” – a throwback, in other words.
And fair enough – the man’s turn of phrase can be a bit off-colour and that’s not to the taste of everyone.
The problem is that there are millions of people (including many potential Labour voters) who do not think Jones’s style makes him a bigot. On the contrary, plenty of ordinary, decent people find it honest and unpretentious.
Jones thinks there is no room for his type in today’s Labour Party. If true, then at least the party is a purer, more coherent organisation – not unlike the People’s Front of Judea.
A very salient point. Having Jones painted by some of the left as a bigot, makes the left less attractive to a lot of people.