On Saturday morning I was rung by a friend who is a huge political nerd. He is also right wing. He was excited.
“Did you see the Nation?” He asked. Voice broken with breathlessness, palms no doubt sweaty. I hadn’t, I explained. I try to have the weekend off from politics.
“Phil Twyford went racist” he said, “it’s a genius move, but of course the bleeding hearts of Twitter are enraged”.
I’m not going to relitigate what was said by Labour’s spokesperson for housing, there are heaps of other people who are far better qualified than me who have already talked it over. I’ve been waiting a few days because I’ve been thinking of the politicking behind this move.
Phil Goff tried this. He delivered his “Nationhood” speech five years ago. He was openly criticised for it by then Labour Party President, Andrew Little. Who coincidentally is now the Labour Leader. Except it wasn’t the Labour Leader who detonated a race-based grenade. It was a mere spokesperson. A far more disposable individual. Smart move Labour.
Hamish Rutherford wrote a fairly astute piece asking if this was Labour’s Orewa attempt. But I think this is more than that. It’s a nuanced and calculated gamble. And a mighty big gamble at that.
What I think this all is, and I could be giving Labour far more credit than it’s due, is a risk to try and make headway on an issue it believes is very real and very problematic.
It’s been trying to beat National with the housing crisis for sometime, but it hasn’t been able to get any cut-through. I think they’ve put their heads together and decided that they need to make it far more explosive. And they certainly succeeded. By playing the race card you’re guaranteed to get at least some attention. Just ask Winston. And so for the first time in…well I don’t know how long, I think people in Te Awamutu will be talking about a Labour policy. They will be thinking about a Labour move. And they will probably agree that there is a problem in Auckland.
I’m assuming that Labour has realised it’s going to lose people over this, but they’ve probably focus tested this shit and found there’ll be a net gain. Yes some people will be appalled by the way in which they’ve forced the housing crisis into the national discourse, yes the way in which they’re backing National into a corner has included some awful statements and possibly woeful analysis of some shonky data, yes the Greens will likely benefit from this, but I think Labour is counting on winning a few of those hallowed Middle New Zealand voters from National to compensate. And I expect they’ll probably succeed.
So we reach a very Machiavellian question here. Has the means justified the ends (if the ends is 1. a solution to the housing crisis and/or 2. a shift in support to the left)? Not for me it hasn’t. I’m wholly uncomfortable with using tactics like this, because even if it is a problem, even if there are literally millions of off-shore Chinese based speculators buying into our market, what Labour has done is incite. They’ve painted a mighty big target on the Chinese. And this means all Chinese. The Chinese who are living here and have been for years. The Chinese whose families were gold miners in Otago 150 years ago. And those Chinese are within far easier reach than the Chinese speculators who live in apartments in Shanghai and speculate from afar.
And this is a country where people were taking the keys off Chinese folk and being applauded for it.
So I shudder to think how Chinese people are being treated around the country. I hope I’m wrong. I hope that there isn’t any race-based abuse happening. But why take the risk?