Jones departure deals a painful blow to Labour

Yet again, last week Labour was in the news for the wrong reasons.

Not since 2005, when Don Brash snatched defeat for National from the jaws of victory, have we seen so much focus on Her Majesty's Opposition during an election year.

Shane Jones was sweet-talked into a cushy fisheries job by that old charmer, Murray McCully, and he was going to announce his departure after Anzac Day.

However the news was judiciously leaked and suddenly David Cunliffe and his colleagues looked like possums staring into the headlights.

As commentators write off Labour's already slim election chances, David Cunliffe is standing firm, rictus grin firmly in place, predicting a Labour victory with the crazed optimism of a Black Caps batting coach as his team is about to face the South African pace attack.

John Key, fresh from a right royal jump in the polls, seems to be the only person who is predicting that it could still be close.

The prime minister will remember only too well the roughly 7 per cent of the vote that he gifted to Winston Peters last time after his cocky teapot tape debacle.

So how badly has Jones's "gone fishing" announcement hurt Labour? Quite a bit.

The biggest blow is the one to morale. Jones's departure signals that a very senior MP doesn't think they stand a chance.

Jones had recently scored some excellent hits on the Government with his work on supermarket pricing. Unfortunately for Labour, he scored bigger hits on the Greens, who are still coalition partner du jour for most Labour MPs.

It's a pity Jones was so insulting to the Green "mollymawks". If, instead, he had publicly argued for a strong Labour relationship with both Greens and New Zealand First, many in his party would have agreed.

Cunliffe was criticised for shying away from a formal coalition deal with the Greens, but I suspect it was a good move to favour one potential partner no more than the other.

What if Labour and Greens combined received 42 per cent of the vote and Winston Peter got 8 per cent? Most Left-wing voters would vastly prefer a Labour-Green-New Zealand First coalition to a National-New Zealand First one.

Jones should have looked at how his close, personal buddies in the National Party operate. You couldn't get more different parties than ACT and the Maori Party. While both seem on track to oblivion, they don't criticise each other and receive little public criticism from National MPs.

Though New Zealand First and the Greens have little in common, they have shown that they can work together, and have spent most of this term either focused on their own policy or attacking the Government.

Jones's departure will see Kelvin Davis return to Parliament. Though he may not have the charisma of his predecessor, Davis shows that you can be a blokey, hunting and fishing, rugby-loving male without being horribly sexist, and support socially progressive policies.

Some critics have been quick to justify Jones's "gelding" sexism by claiming he appeals to blue- and brown-collar males.

Where is it written that all these men hate gays and think that a woman's place is in the home? No one understands the necessity for cheap childcare and for women to be paid fairly better than a working class male with a family.

For those poorly paid men, income inequality based on gender affects their family pay packet. It's not a "boutique", "PC", "front bum" or "gelding" issue.

So expect a drop in the polls for Labour in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, though, I don't agree with the Forbes economist who predicts a dire bursting of our housing bubble, as the housing market heats up and mortgage rates are starting to rise.

And bear in mind that National's 2008 tax cuts were a dog in terms of stimulating the economy, the 2011 asset sales were an unpopular sham, and were it not for the Christchurch earthquake payout and Bill English's borrow-and-spend economic policy that could have been taken from Labour, things could be much worse.

Perhaps Key is right that, come September, it may be closer than we think.

The Dominion Post