Bring It On! So much grist for Mr Jones’s populist-nationalist mill! With it, he will grind and grind and grind. The “population policy” debate, which Mr Jones is relentlessly stoking with his inflammatory rhetoric, is NZ First’s last shot at garnering sufficient electoral support to secure its return to Parliament.
WHAT SORT OF PEOPLE do you suppose Shane Jones wants to come out swinging over his anti-Indian remarks? Is he hoping to be roundly rebuked by his friends and whanau in the impoverished North? Would a blistering broadside from hard-working tradies in the provinces fit the bill? What about elderly Pakeha voters with cherished memories of a time when the only ethnic group they had to keep their eye on were the “Maarees”? The answer, of course, is “None of the Above”.
Indeed, if he found himself under attack from the groups listed above, Mr Jones would be forced to entirely re-think his own – and NZ First’s – strategy for re-election. Fortunately for the Minister in Charge of the Pork Barrel, this will not be necessary. So far, the sort of people objecting to Mr Jones’ remarks are exactly the sort of people he was hoping to make hopping mad.
Not only has Mr Jones’s carefully crafted denigration of Indian university students triggered all the usual suspects on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, but they have also succeeded in hooking three much larger fish: a Race Relations Commissioner, a Vice-Chancellor and a Professor.
From each of these representatives of New Zealand’s cultural and bureaucratic elites have come great dollops of outrage.
“While this is not the first time prominent figures have resorted to xenophobic dog-whistle politics in an election year,” finger-wagged the Vice-Chancellor and the Professor, “the Christchurch atrocity highlighted the very real dangers of allowing such narratives to go unchallenged.”
Jackpot! In their social-liberal rage, Jones’s critics have associated him with the man alleged to have gunned down 51 Muslims in Christchurch on 15 March last year. Mr Jones’s audience, who are, it is pretty safe to say, members of the same “beer drinking, plain speaking, red meat eating” fraternity to which the Minister, by his own admission, belongs, will wax indignant at this association. In their eyes, at least, talking frankly about immigration is not even remotely in the same ball-park as mass murder.
These same folk will respond with equal indignation to the remarks of the Race Relations Commissioner, who blasted Mr Jones for his “irresponsible” comments which, he insisted, “emboldened those who held racist and xenophobic views”.
No more than the Vice-Chancellor and the Professor, could the Commissioner forbear from referring to the Christchurch Massacre. The anniversary of the 15 March Christchurch mosque shootings was, he said, “a reminder of the ugliness of racism and hate”.
So much grist for Mr Jones’s populist-nationalist mill! With it, he will grind and grind and grind. The “population policy” debate, which Mr Jones is relentlessly stoking with his inflammatory rhetoric, is NZ First’s last shot at garnering sufficient electoral support to secure its return to Parliament. That it has every chance of succeeding is not only because there are hundreds-of-thousands of New Zealanders who are alarmed and dismayed at the unprecedented scale and speed of this country’s demographic evolution; but also by the blank refusal of the “elites” to give them any say in the matter.
Oh, how Mr Jones must have rubbed his hands in glee when he read the Vice-Chancellor’s and the Professor’s penultimate admonitory sentence:
“Today, all states are confronted by security, economic and environmental challenges that do not respect territorial borders and cannot be resolved by populist-nationalist politicians promising to ‘take back control’ of national sovereignty in New Zealand or anywhere else.”
This is precisely the sort of sneering, condescending, “we experts know best” rhetoric that gave the world Brexit and Trump. The sort of behaviour that demonstrates as nothing else can the sheer vastness of the gulf that separates the guardians of this deracinated, globalised culture, from its victims.
Populist-nationalism has always been NZ First’s stock-in-trade. In the past, its expression has generally possessed a tongue-in-cheek quality that allowed New Zealand to steer clear of the dark pathways down which the populist-nationalists of Europe and the USA have descended.
In the general election of 2020, however, NZ First finds itself fighting for its life. Which is why, in the eyes of NZ First’s political strategists, those dark pathways are fast taking on the appearance of escape routes.
Race Relations Commissioners, Vice-Chancellors and Professors need to wise-up – and quickly. Heaping vitriol on Shane Jones won’t kill his “racist and xenophobic views”, it will only make them stronger.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 6 March 2020.