This is not the discussion you are looking for

“They are so many, and our country is so small. Where will we find space to bury them all?”

— Finnish soldier during the Winter War, 1939

“We have won just about enough ground to bury our dead.”

— Red Army general during the Winter War, 1940

With their horrendous Chinese housing investment analysis Labour hoped to start a discussion. Well, they’ve done that. For 11 days until yesterday, the story led, or nearly led the news. The question is: are they happy with the discussion they’ve started?

They may really have wanted a discussion about race, dressed up as a discussion about housing, or they may have genuinely wanted a housing discussion with a slight racial frisson. Regardless of their hopes and ambitions, the party at this point has to have a long, hard look at their choices, for in reality, they’ve had neither of these two things. What they have had is an excruciating public discussion about one of the most boring and alienating topics it is possible to imagine: research ethics and methodology. For eleven straight days, during most of which time they had the agenda to themselves because the Prime Minister was out of the country, Labour has unsuccessfully defended its commitment to good social science practice.

Unsuccessfully, because yesterday, 11 days on, an increasingly frustrated Labour leader was still defending the data. “This is how the debate gets out of control,” said Andrew Little to Patrick Gower — and for once, he was right. “The Auckland housing market is not a morality play,” said housing spokesperson Phil Twyford, and he was right, too, but that’s all anyone has been talking about for 11 days.

Earlier in the day the party’s statistical guru Rob Salmond
half-arsedly apologised, on the fourth page of comments on a blog post, for misrepresenting three of his most rigorous methodological critics in a column published in the Sunday Star Times, which is read by somewhere north of 100,000 people. Three critics — Keith Ng, Tze Ming Mok, and Chuan-Zheng Lee, all of whom just happen to be Chinese, and who seem, horrifyingly, to have been misrepresented so as to give Labour the ability to say “look, we can’t be racist, here are these three Chinese people who agree with us!”

This is a horror show. Quite apart from giving unreconstructed racists an opportunity to pretend outrage, and appropriative neo-colonialists grounds to go around trumpeting about the coming race war, Labour has spent 11 days debating the definition of “is”, losing, and looking like mendacious buffoons into the bargain. Quite apart from the vileness of this exercise, it has been handled even more badly than I have come to expect.

They need to just stop. There is no ground to be won by these means, and further fighting will mean more dead to bury. The only poll since the announcement has them effectively stagnant, following a poll taken mostly before the announcement, which had them well up. Pretending nothing is wrong with their work, that their high-minded-if-admittedly-risky project has been hijacked by a mendacious media and the leftist-liberal fifth-column is no kind of strategy, even if it were true. The keys to the twitter accounts need to be taken away and, as much as possible, a dignified silence maintained. Go away and get some evidence, find a way to return the discussion to the issue of housing prices and non-resident investment, because those are serious issues about which we deserve a serious discussion which Labour’s delusional incompetence has rendered impossible.


5 thoughts on “This is not the discussion you are looking for

  1. Please, Chris.

    The piece I linked to is only the latest instalment in your historical fantasy of the glorious, tragic saga of our colonialism, which includes your reimagination of Smith’s Dream after the Urewera raids, the claim that we are facing a second colonialism, and the horror of a white guy quoting Red Cloud as a warning for white New Zealand.

    It’s one thing for the Labour party to dissemble about this; quite another for you.


  2. I’m sorry, Lew, but your explanation makes about as much sense to me as JeremyDab’s comment.

    If you’re unable to define the terms you invent, then perhaps you should think again about using them in public discourse.

    Were I to have a stab at defining an “Appropriative ANTI-neo-colonialist”, however, it would be something along the lines of:

    “One who resists the neo-colonialist ambitions of foreign powers by appropriating, for cautionary purposes, the historical experiences of already colonised peoples.”


  3. Chris, the trouble is that you only seem to be anti-colonialist when you feel like it’s your people who might be subject to colonialism, rather than perpetrating it.

    But anyway, we repeat ourselves.


  4. The problem with “starting a discussion” as a political goal is that it’s setting the bar for success about as low as it’s possible to get. I could “start a discussion” by having my dog crap on my neighbour’s lawn. It wouldn’t be a very productive or necessary discussion and it wouldn’t lead anywhere, but hey, at least I got people talking, right?

    What Labour have done is effectively the same thing, just on a national scale.

    (People who try to justify their ineffectual contributions as “starting a discussion” are also often either wilfully or genuinely ignorant of the fact that the subjects they view themselves as fearlessly breaching have in fact been extensively discussed already, sometimes for years. This occassion is an excellent example of that – it’s not as if nobody dared or cared to opine about the role of Chinese people in NZ property markets before this month. The subject’s been extensively bruited about, for better or worse, but the one thing you can’t say it’s lacked is discussion)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *