Phil Goff’s speech on ‘nationhood’ was always going to be seen as an attempt to pull a Brash, regardless of what it actually said. The narrative was set from the start, and it’s fair to suspect that Goff’s people knew that and thought they’d take the risk anyway. You don’t make a speech on the same topic and with the same name as Brash’s by mistake.
And as we all know, it’s backfired terribly.
There is the same crude attempt to roll out historical myths and gloss over the history of colonisation (even Brash was more honest here), and the same attempt to play on Pakeha fears of Treaty ‘grievances’ running out of control.
But there’s no demonisation of Maori, no denial of their existence as a people, no attempt to paint them as a grasping minority with a ‘birthright to the upper hand’, accuse them or special privileges or write them out of our legislation and our institutions. The speech itself is certainly not racist – Brash’s was.
Still, you have to ask – and this is crucial – why else make a speech about race and nationhood at this time other than to dog-whistle to racists who don’t like National ‘pandering to the Maoris’? And why else would you suddenly change your position on the foreshore if not to try and ride the backlash?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people who thinks you can’t talk about the Treaty without being a racist, and there are legitimate grounds for criticism of the actions of Harawira, the Maori Party and National. On much of the substance Goff is completely correct. But in politics it’s not always just about the substance, it’s about the subtext of what he’s saying and the political context in which he says it.
I just can’t believe that Goff and his advisers didn’t know what they were doing with this speech. And in doing so they’ve alienated much of the left and done huge damage to Labour’s relationship with Maori. To much of the rest of the electorate he just looks desperate.
It’s possible that Goff might have won over some of the iwi/kiwi racists with the speech, he might even see a poll bounce (though nothing that would compare favourably with Brash’s 17%) – but even if it works, is this any basis on which to build a sustainable progressive alternative?
Goff’s speech was stupid and wrong on so many levels. We deserve better than this.