POL­I­TICS

New Zealand First fi­nally gets its lon­gawaited trans­fu­sion of red-blood­ed­ness.

North & South - - Columns -

Be­van Rap­son on NZ First’s testos­terone trans­fu­sion.

Is the na­tion about to wake up and smell the testos­terone?

New Zealand First must hope so, fol­low­ing the re­cent un­veil­ing of for­mer Labour min­is­ter and self-pro­fessed red­blooded male Shane Jones as party can­di­date for Whangarei.

Judg­ing by Jones’ swag­ger­ing, base­ball cap-wear­ing per­for­mance at the for­mal an­nounce­ment of his can­di­dacy at Whangarei’s Pure Bar & Grill, he isn’t go­ing to be but­ton­ing down his ul­tra-bloke per­sona any time soon. Both he and the party’s found­ing al­pha male clearly rate it a vote win­ner.

Not among your panty­waisted, namby-pamby Grey Lynn bed­wet­ters, tweet­ing into their kale and smashed-av­o­cado smooth­ies, of course. (Sorry, the bois­ter­ous ma­cho dis­course can be aw­fully in­fec­tious.) But when were the kind of peo­ple leader Win­ston Peters once dubbed “sickly white lib­er­als” ever go­ing to vote New Zealand First, any­way?

No, Jones and Peters aim to ap­peal to the same kinds of dis­af­fected vot­ers who car­ried Don­ald Trump all the way to the White House. They’re pick­ing that, as in Amer­ica, an ex­pand­ing chunk of the New Zealand elec­torate has grown weary of main­stream op­tions and is ready to get be­hind some sim­ple ideas, ro­bustly ex­pressed – prefer­ably sea­soned with plenty of ver­bal knuckle-rubs for the over- ed­u­cated know-it-alls who seem to be run­ning every­thing these days. (There it goes again.)

You might not have thought New Zealand First, hav­ing al­ways oc­cu­pied the hairy- chested end of our po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, needed any ex­tra blok­i­fi­ca­tion. Prob­lem is, when your leader is over 70 and the cur­rent mem­bers of his cau­cus would barely get a men­tion in their own au­to­bi­ogra­phies, a party’s vi­tal juices start to look in need of a top-up.

Along comes Jones, whose years of rel­a­tive un­der­achieve­ment in Labour ap­pear to have taken lit­tle toll on his es­ti­ma­tion of his own ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Re­turn­ing from his stint in South Pa­cific diplo­matic cir­cles, he still gives ev­ery im­pres­sion of say­ing what he likes and lik­ing what he says. “I’m no shrink­ing violet. I’m a tough char­ac­ter,” he told TV3’S The Na­tion. “I have a lot of pas­sion, I know how to res­onate with peo­ple.”

Golly. If chest-beat­ing counts as res­onation, he might just be on to some­thing.

Jones’ po­si­tion­ing as Peters’ heir ap­par­ent has prompted sug­ges­tions the pair might, in a the­o­ret­i­cal dream re­sult for New Zealand First,

“barn­storm” their way through to Septem­ber 23, pro­pel­ling their party to new lev­els of sup­port and mul­ti­ple seats in the next cab­i­net.

“Barn­storm­ing” is aptly anachro­nis­tic. As other par­ties fuss over their so­cial-me­dia mes­sag­ing and tie them­selves in knots try­ing to strike the right tone with tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tise­ments, Peters is once again in­vest­ing his hopes in a big bus, qual­ity tai­lor­ing and a por­ta­ble PA sys­tem.

Will that – and the ex­tra brio pro­vided by his new re­cruit – lead to packed pro­vin­cial halls and a gath­er­ing mo­men­tum?

Well, Peters is tak­ing the punt. In sign­ing Jones up to the New Zealand First cause, the wily vet­eran is at­tempt­ing a break from his years as a vir­tual one-man band, dur­ing which even an en­er­getic fig­ure such as Ron Mark has had to ex­ist in the mas­ter’s shadow.

No one will ever mis­take Jones for a hum­ble courtier. That means New Zealand First’s chances of get­ting a boost from his can­di­dacy de­pend on his or­a­tor­i­cal ac­ro­bat­ics and plus­size sense of self-worth some­how mesh­ing with Peters’ gnomic pos­tur­ing and trade­mark flights of in­dig­na­tion. It won’t be easy.

Pol­i­tics has al­ways pro­duced more than its share of he-man shenani­gans. The par­lia­men­tary bear pit com­bined with in­tense com­pe­ti­tion for sta­tus and jobs tends to draw out the in­ner Tarzan of some oth­er­wise rel­a­tively ra­tio­nal MPS. The rau­cous bray­ing dur­ing par­lia­men­tary ques­tion time is one of the most ob­vi­ous and un­ap­peal­ing man­i­fes­ta­tions of the ten­dency. Would it hap­pen in a chamber pop­u­lated only by women MPS?

Ear­lier gen­er­a­tions, hard­ened by war and poverty, could per­haps be ex­cused for rat­ing mas­cu­line staunch­ness so highly. Maybe Peters, who learned his pol­i­tics at the feet of that ul­ti­mate World War II gen­er­a­tion force of na­ture, Robert Mul­doon, also gets a pass.

But there’s some­thing ridicu­lous about mod­ern- day male politi­cians who would seek to over- egg their mas­cu­line cre­den­tials.

It al­ways seemed laugh­able, for ex­am­ple, that Labour’s Trevor Mal­lard was known as a “bovver boy”. His wet-mouthed carp­ing over points of par­lia­men­tary pro­ce­dure could be ir­ri­tat­ing, cer­tainly, but that hardly qual­i­fies him as a third Kray twin. Most pa­thetic was his ac­tual dust-up with Na­tional’s Tau Henare in the lobby next to the de­bat­ing chamber in 2007, af­ter which he pleaded guilty to fight­ing in a public place. Ap­par­ently riled by a beastly “taunt”, the sup­posed hard man let his sen­si­tiv­ity get the bet­ter of him.

It should be no sur­prise that Mal­lard was a founder mem­ber of the par­lia­men­tary rugby team, the ve­hi­cle by which pasty-faced, pen-push­ing MPS can act out their fan­tasies of phys­i­cal pro­fi­ciency. It’s an un­for­tu­nate ini­tia­tive, re­spon­si­ble for ex­pos­ing in­no­cent mem­bers of the public to Murray Mc­cully’s legs, among other atroc­i­ties. That’s the kind of thing you can’t un-see.

Our Prime Min­is­ter is an­other founder mem­ber of the team. You might re­mem­ber that back in the des­per­ate days of his first Na­tional Party lead­er­ship stint, he even went so far as to step into the box­ing ring with a wor­ry­ingly ef­fec­tive op­po­nent for a char­ity bout, get­ting soundly pum­melled for his trou­ble. Yet with his la­conic south­ern-man per­sona so clearly rooted in an ac­tual swede- coun­try up­bring­ing, it’s a lit­tle un­kind to tar him with the try-hard brush.

An­drew Lit­tle, too, should es­cape too much op­pro­brium for oc­ca­sional “An­gry Andy” out­bursts, which at least carry the ring of au­then­tic­ity.

The se­ri­ous-minded and fas­tid­i­ous Peters would surely never lower him­self to cod-mas­cu­line an­tics such as par­lia­men­tary rugby, would he? Um, meet the team’s “me­dia man­ager” dur­ing its trip to the Par­lia­men­tary Rugby World Cup, ahead of the real World Cup in the UK in 2015.

It might also be worth re­mem­ber­ing here that Peters once led into Par­lia­ment an en­tire bristling squad of al­pha males (or wannabes, at least), so ma­cho their nick­name reeked of mud and lin­i­ment. The “tight five” elected in 1996 com­prised a for­mer po­lice su­per­in­ten­dent (Rana Waitai), a for­mer staffer at West Point Mil­i­tary Academy (Tuariki De­lamere), a for­mer All Black (Tu Wyl­lie), the fu­ture president of the Maori Party (Tuko­roirangi Mor­gan) and the de­scen­dant and name­sake of a famed Maori politi­cian of yes­ter­year (Tau Henare). Woof.

And, yes, that all turned to dog­gydo when Jenny Ship­ley rolled Jim Bol­ger, sacked Peters and stayed in of­fice with the sup­port of eight de­fect­ing New Zealand First MPS, in­clud­ing four of that very tight five.

Nearly two decades on, the New Zealand First leader has to hope a sole ap­pren­tice will prove eas­ier to har­ness and less likely to leap from the waka when it suits him, although Jones clearly has form in that area. In his favour, Jones has a few more miles on his par­lia­men­tary clock than those thrust­ing New Zealand First men of yes­ter­year, who all too soon had their promis­ing po­lit­i­cal fu­tures be­hind them.

At 57, can Jones seize this rare sec­ond op­por­tu­nity to make his mark in pol­i­tics? It’ll take dis­ci­pline and ap­pli­ca­tion, along with his red­blooded vim and en­ter­tain­ing way with lan­guage. He’s al­ways been able to talk a good game; now he has to trans­late the blus­ter of his launch into ac­tual po­lit­i­cal ef­fec­tive­ness. As rugby coaches used to say, it’s no use just train­ing like Tarzan. +

As other par­ties fuss over their so­cial­me­dia mes­sag­ing and tie them­selves in knots try­ing to strike the right tone with tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tise­ments, Peters is once again in­vest­ing his hopes in a big bus, qual­ity tai­lor­ing and a por­ta­ble PA sys­tem.

Win­ston Peters (left) and new po­lit­i­cal bed­mate Shane Jones.

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