First impressions count.
I remember being on deck on the morning that David Shearer decided to run for leader of the Labour Party. It happened quickly and he phoned and said he’s coming into the studio in 20 minutes and we said fine, we’ll make room for you.
I remember Shearer bursting into the radio station all vim and vigour. He was a broad man, and strong and for from his days in the desert. He was on a high and bristling with intent. He sat down and banged out a really impressive interview and then strode purposefully out the door.
We all thought, “wow!”. That guy's got something. He’s a real chance.
But what happened next is that he became a blithering, stammering, unconfident shambles of a leader who left the job as quickly as he entered it. I thought maybe that first impression was wrong. But then I met him again during a summer break at a beach and the rugged action man was back.
So the first time I met Shane Jones was when he announced his return to politics at a New Zealand First conference. Being in the weekend meant that he slipped into the Newstalk ZB studio and my Sunday programme for his first interview.
So he schlepped into the studio dressed in a business suit, said, "kia ora" and sunk into the studio chair looking like a disgruntled Buddha. He seemed a bit put out that he had to speak to me. What followed was a very weak interview full of pomp, flowery indistinct language and self-referential stuff about mighty totaras and whanau. When asked about what he’s actually done in his ambassador for fish Pacific Island role, he was evasive. When asked about whether NZ First was his choice because no one else would have him, he went into full circuitous doublespeak. And all the time his little eyes were darting all around the place looking everywhere but at me.
My first impression was a vainglorious, narcissistic, arrogant man with scant regard for other peoples' rules or expectations. Other than that, he was a nice guy with a good sense of humour.
So it doesn’t surprise me that when a meeting started to discuss a project with which he had already declared a conflict of interest, he didn’t recuse himself and walk out of the room. He can’t see anything wrong with it. And in a way, there isn’t, in that it only just complies with the Cabinet Manual but I doubt very much whether Shane cares. He thought nothing of it.
What surprises me, and what hasn’t been said, is why didn’t other people at the meeting twig that this was a bad look. It was the top tier Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis, Economic Development Minister David Parker, Transport Minister Phil Twyford and, in particular, Finance Minister Grant Robertson. I believe Robertson is the most capable politician Labour has. He was also the one to directly question Shane Jones when in my belief, he should have been the one to directly tell Shane to scarper.
All this is nothing the Government needs. All this is Shane Jones’ fault. It’s now landed in the Prime Minister's court, who must do something. I loved Fran O'Sullivan's article on the mess today which was headlined “Time someone yanked on Shane Jones chain.” Bang on, because his fast and loose style is smearing itself all over the government's leadership and their reputations.