OPINION: Why Shane Jones is Labour's kingmaker

  • 25/08/2013

Shane Jones may be the outsider in Labour's leadership race - but he is also set to be the kingmaker.

The voting system the Labour Party is using for the leadership means Jones will likely end up with the casting vote.

Jones may well decide whether the leader is David Cunliffe or Grant Robertson.

This is the big development in the race right now.

I have new information about what's happening in the behind the scenes machinations.

I have spoken to the key MPs and party hacks "doing the numbers" in all three camps and they all say: "This is all about the 'Jones second preference'."

These people are some of the craftiest and hard-headed political operatives New Zealand has ever seen and they have all zoned in on the "Jones second preference"

It works like this.

The Caucus MPs get 40% of the say, the membership 40% and the unions 20%.

Labour is using a preferential voting system. Each voter be it an MP, party member or unionist must give the candidates a 1st, 2nd and 3rd ranking.

The first preferences are all counted up - and candidate who is ranked third gets knocked out.

All of the third ranked candidates first preferences are withdrawn - and the second preference put against the two remaining candidates.

As the rank outsider, without Caucus or Union support, Jones is expected to come third and be eliminated.

So that point, all of the Jones "second preference" votes go against Cunliffe or Robertson.

This is why the Jones second preference votes are so crucial.

Take Jones himself - his MPs vote is worth about 1.2%.

So Jones' second preference is worth 1.2% to either Robertson or Cunliffe.

So Robertson and Cunliffe are actively campaigning to get Jones' second preference.

If for argument's sake Robertson and Cunliffe are 50/50 - then Jones' 1.2% could make it 51.2% versus 48.8%.

And at the moment Jones has about 5 MPs (Ross Robertson, Rino Tirakatene, Damien O'Connor, David Shearer, Meka Whaitiri/Raymond Huo) - and if he can get them to vote second preference as a bloc, that's a total of 6% - that could swing it 56%-44% for one of the candidates.

The MPs are worth 1.2% - party insiders tell me that's worth the same as about 250 party members.

The MPs is where Robertson has got his power base, with up to 20 of them - 24% of the final vote.

So swinging an MP over is a big deal

That means Jones and his second preference has him in the box seat. What does he want? Deputy? Finance? Economic Development? A roving role. A good job for Damien O'Connor as well?

Jones' official position is that he is "agnostic" about whether to give his second preference to either Robertson or Cunliffe.

That means he's holding out on them.

The voting paper does not count if all three boxes are not ticked.

Jones wants utu against Robertson who he blames for getting David Shearer to put the Auditor-General on him. And Jones is not all that hot on Cunliffe either.

Shearer is another whose second preference is crucial. He's thought to be siding with Jones for first preference - and as one MP told me "he needs to decide which out of Robertson and Cunliffe stabbed him in the back the hardest" in deciding who gets that second preference.

The Jones camp is also spinning that he is the only one who can stop Cunliffe - a bid to get some of Robertsons(Phil Goff, Annette King, Clayton Cosgrove, David Parker are all targets).

Jones believes he is still in this and won't be knocked out in that first round.

The odds are well and truly against that still - I expect Jones to come third unless there is some extraordinary power play against Robertson.

But I can see a strong Jones camp forming and directing its second preferences to decide the leader is a reality.

Jones may not be Labour's King, but he may well be Labour's Kingmaker.

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