Winston Peters’ contemptible race-baiting rhetoric has hit a new low, but he’s able to go further than usually thanks to the party that gave us ‘Chinese-sounding names’ having already climbed half way, argues Keith Ng.
You can try to have a sensible debate about immigration – and you can say it’s not about race – but inevitably, someone is going to jump up and say: “Woah, woah, woah, it totally is about Asians, and anyone telling you otherwise are just bloody Asian immigrants!”
And inevitably, that someone is going to be Winston.
But here’s the thing. Immigration has traction as an issue because Labour made it an issue. And Winston can climb out further than he usually does because Labour has already climbed half way.
Labour seems to think that it can open a can of worms, and when the worms start crawling out, it’s not their fault – it’s the worms’. Maybe this would be true if Labour had painstakingly avoided fuelling xenophobia in their discussion of immigration. But they haven’t. They’ve done the exact opposite.
I would remind people that Keith is a former staffer in Helen Clark’s office. So him saying Labour have fuelled xenophobia has more resonance than me saying it.
Yes, it’s possible to have a responsible, non-xenophobic debate about immigration policy – but this ain’t it. Throwing in a bit of “immigrants are taking our jobs” – when the problem is supposed to be infrastructure! – and denigrating those migrants as low-skilled and rorters is the opposite of responsible.
The other key to having a responsible debate about immigration policy is: HAVING. SOME. GODDAMN. POLICY.
Intended or otherwise, Labour has created one hell of a vacuum. They’ve talked up immigration as a problem since last year, and last week they ramped it up to Very Serious Problem which requires cuts in the tens of thousands … but they don’t have any policy.
Little is simply trying to be a mini-Winston.
This isn’t a policy debate – this is a debate about whether an arbitrary number sounds aggressively-yet-responsibly big. Ten thousand? Not big enough! Fifty thousand? Too big!
And, sure, I guess that’s how politics works sometimes. But immigration debates are different. In the absence of actual policy proposals, there is nothing to consider except prejudices and gut feels. That vacuum is an invitation for the worst Winstons of our nature, and that is firmly Labour’s responsibility.
I labelled this the stench of desperation. Labour can’t win on leadership, competence or policies so they resort to what is left.