Gordon Campbell on sending mixed messages out on purpose

0b4b73957bc7bb665260National has developed a novel election strategy. It involves being both for and against almost every issue that comes down the pike. The use of te reo on public signage? Recently National Party leader Christopher Luxon came out against the bi-lingual use of te reo in the naming of government departments. Dutifully National’s transport spokesperson Simeon Brown has since opposed the addition of te reo to road signage on the grounds that this would be “confusing.”

Yet as soon the media began reporting about National’s dog-whistling to racists, another senior National MP ( Chris Bishop) emerged to “clarify” that National had no problem “in principle” with using te reo on public signage.

This has become something of a pattern. A bi-partisan agreement on infill housing in our main cities? National’s Nicola Willis was all for it, and even wrote much of the content of the negotiated agreement. Luxon has now come out against his own deputy’s pet housing project. Once again, Chris Bishop – the Cousin Greg of the party caucus – tried to square that circle, too.

There’s more. Luxon’s housing U-turn will result in more of the urban-adjacent farmland needed for food production being used for housing instead. That’s a trend that senior National MP Andrew Bayly has strongly warned against in the past.

The loss of elite soils around Pukekohe was the focus of attention in Parliament. Hort NZ commissioned Deloitte to review the economic impacts if these soils are lost to housing. Short answer – huge! Accounting for only 1% of land in Auckland, growers supply 25% by value of fresh veges in NZ. Good to see many of our growers….in Wellington.

So National is opposed to the wider use of te reo on any public signage while not opposing it “in principle.” They’re for infill housing until they’re against it. They worry about using farmland for housing instead of for food production, except when they ignore that concern completely.

IMO, the inconsistencies are likely to be deliberate. It is a strategy based on the belief that at some point, casual consumers of the news are going to hear National endorse something they believe in, and they’ll either not hear or will tune out the subsequent clarifications and retractions. The more important fact is that at some point in time, National has spoken to them. As Paul Simon once said, people hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest.

There’s also been a division of labour involved. Luxon, as we have all learned, is not a detail kind of guy. In an interesting reversal of traditional gender roles, the bloke at the top gets to make the big picture, emotional calls to reactionary sentiments. Meanwhile, his brainy deputy does the hard policy work, even though that will be discarded at will. Willis appears to accept the public humiliation, for the greater good derived from people being told what they want to hear. No surprise BTW, to find National treating women’s work as dispensable.

Footnote One: Dog whistling to racists who can’t stand co-governance and bi-lingualism, and who can’t abide all this Maori stuff on state media and in government departments? National has been to this place before. Remember the iwi vs kiwi ads and the “one waka” sentiments of Election 2002? Don Brash, another personally unpopular National leader, had few qualms about resorting to race baiting for political advantage in the tight election race of 2005 as well.

Footnote Two: In line with the strategy of telling different target audiences only what they want to hear, Luxon has – in other contexts – spoken about his learning of te reo. While he headed the state airline, Luxon also reportedly sought to trademark the term “Kia Ora.” Now he rails against using te reo to identify state agencies. Hollow, indeed.

Ready For The Dance

Beautiful faces, sharp clothes. This clip from London 1970 shows a group of young black men and women dressed up for a night out at the sound system. The loveliness of these faces –anxious, expectant, aloof excited, dead cool – is timeless. The clothes are great, too. Music is mainly Tapper Zukie’s “MPLA”…

And from a different bygone age – yet from only about five years earlier – here’s some great footage of white Appalachian clog dancing, just before rock music swept this tradition away.