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Shane Jones rejects 'flag-waving' charge

Monday 26 Aug 2013 9:04 a.m.

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Shane Jones says those who don't think he's serious about becoming the next leader of the Labour Party leadership are wrong.

This morning on Firstline political commentator Bryce Edwards dismissed Mr Jones' candidacy as "flag-waving" – an exercise in raising his profile in the hope of getting a top job under likely winner David Cunliffe.

"It's about leverage – perhaps he wants to the portfolio of finance, or maybe even the deputy leadership," says the University of Otago politics professor. "I don't think anyone's seriously takes Shane Jones as the next leader of the Labour Party."

But Mr Jones – who announced his candidacy this morning – says he's the man to take Labour forward.

"He needs to stay focused on teaching stage 1 students and really stop talking about stuff he really knows nothing about," says Mr Jones.

Dr Edwards says he's surprised Mr Jones and current deputy, Grant Robertson, have both put their hands up for what former leader Phil Goff last week called the toughest job in politics.

"It's a bit surprising, because I think within Labour there's a strong feeling that the time is for Cunliffe – it's his time to come leader – and that Grant Robertson, it's still a bit early for him. So there's a sort of dream-team scenario going on, where people want Cunliffe as the leader and Robertson as the deputy. So this is a bit surprising that he's going head-to-head with him.

"But certainly Robertson has to throw his hat into the ring if ever he wants to be leader, so this is possibly more about setting himself up for the post-Cunliffe leadership – whether that's after the next election if Labour loses, or eventually when Cunliffe goes. So Grant Robertson, really I think this is an exercise in profile-raising and putting his hat in the ring for the longer-term future."

But Mr Robertson, like Mr Jones, rejects that.

"I wouldn't put myself into this if I didn't think I had the skills to lead the Labour Party," he said on Firstline. "I think Labour's got a great chance of winning the 2014 election. We've got the right mix of policies and vision, and we've got John Key, a Prime Minister who's getting increasingly out of touch with New Zealanders, and I'm in this to win."

But can either of them defeat John Key? Despite two years of near-constant controversy, Mr Key still commands a formidable loyalty from the public , and some have suggested single-handedly keeps National polling so well.

Dr Edwards says though Mr Robertson's stock is on the rise, Mr Cunliffe is the proven performer and feels his time has come.

"[At] the moment amongst caucus, amongst the party membership, unions, they're really in pragmatic mode: they're wanting someone that can win the next election, so ideological preferences, personal preferences are really second to just wanting someone that can win, and at the moment, that seems to be Cunliffe."

The other two MPs tipped to have a go at the leadership – Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern – have both said they won't be putting their names forward this time, but Dr Edwards says Ms Ardern would be a good pick for deputy.

"I think there's a strong desire to see her as a deputy, either to Grant Robertson or particularly to David Cunliffe, and that would be really pushing this idea of a new generation in the Labour Party leadership, and I think that would look really fresh."

Mr Cunliffe hasn't officially announced his candidacy yet, but is expected to do so at some point today.

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