By Andrew Campbell
Shame on the Labour caucus. If it’s true that they back Phil Goff’s Nationhood speech without reservations and therefore his strategy to use dog whistling racist tactics to win back the white male vote then they deserve the long period in opposition such an approach will bring.
The closing of the ranks to the obvious internal dissent to the speech is unhealthy given the desperate need for Labour to have exactly this kind of debate in order to fully define the kind of opposition and future government it wants to be.
Some of the left, like Chris Trotter, are salivating at the thought that Goff’s Nationhood speech represents some kind of return to pure working class left politics. It doesn’t. Trotter should know that Goff has never been the people’s hero and is unlikely to ever be. Bear in mind this is the same Phil Goff who introduced user pays in tertiary education whilst a Cabinet Minister in the infamous 4th Labour Government.
And while Trotter represents one view, others of us on the left have been dismayed for some time at the way in which Labour’s relationship with Maori has deteriorated over recent years. How can we achieve a more equal and just society when Labour takes such a negative position towards a group of people often most adversely affected by social inequality?
If Goff wanted to focus on policy he could have done so. He could have framed his speech in such a way as to avoid the inevitable controversy. No question there are major policy issues with the Government’s Emissions Trading Scheme, not least of which is that it will increase pollution and reward the polluters. But Goff’s relentless attack on one aspect of it, the deal with major iwi, ignores the other major corporations who will be paid money to continue to pollute. Maybe being honest about the benefits of the ETS to Pakeha big business wouldn’t swing so many votes back to the party.
If Goff so genuinely wanted to focus on policy and initiate a reasoned debate why has he permitted his speech to be titled Nationhood, the same title of the speech Don Brash gave in Orewa a few years ago? Why would he allow it to be on the Labour Party website next to an idyllic picture of a beach? Why else would Goff staffer John Pagani be placing orchestrated comments on blog sites attacking liberal left thought?
It is my view that Goff is looking increasingly desperate as his era of politics draws to a close. This sorry episode highlights the need for genuine rejuvenation within the Labour Party and the promotion of people not damaged by recent race politics. Central to that rejuvenation should be a much more progressive and inclusive approach to Maori. Such an approach will require genuine and original leadership something Phil Goff has demonstrated he is totally devoid of.