Why Phil Twyford's Failed Racist Ploy Shouldn't be Forgotten — or Forgiven

At the risk of boring readers, a final word for 2015 on Phil Twyford, and his despicable camapaign against property buyers with Chinese sounding surnames. Twyford's appearing in various end of year best/worst MP lists — including as Colin James's  bizarre pick as Politician of the Year — prompted me. 

The passing of time has not diluted my disgust at Twyford's actions.  

Questions of race and what constitutes racism are often complex and extremely nuanced. Accusations of racism are sometimes deployed too readily to allow the accuser to silence or demean the accused. For example, there is the infuriating tendency on both extremes of the political spectrum to conflate criticism of certain extreme beliefs among a small segment within Islam (specially Salafi-Jihadism) with a generalized animus towards Muslims — which is not an ethnic group anyway. I digress. 

My point is, the Twyford case is neither complex nor nuanced. 

The trawling through a list of property buyers in order to count up names that sound Chinese in order to launch a campaign against foreign home ownership is blatantly, unambiguously racist. The notion that this doesn't makes Twyford himself racist is baffling — if doing racist things isn't the definition of being racist, then what is? 

Twyford's bigotry is why I resigned from the party and, when I made the point that my living and working in Rwanda had taught me that no good can come from compiling ethnic lists, Twyford and his minions went on the attack — accusing me, absurdly, of comparing what Twyford did in Auckland to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis of Rwanda. So tick the box "flagrant intellectual dishonesty" alongside "staggeringly racist".

You can tick another couple of boxes, too: "Complete tactical failure" and "devastating long term implications".  

Twyford's racist scaremongering simply wasn't the "game-changer" Labour hoped. There was no spike in the polls, just more flatlining. Labour's core voters recoiled, while the kind of people who embrace politiicians who target Asians for electoral gain know there are MPs much better at it than Phil Twyford. In making such a transparently cynical play for the redneck vote, the redneck voter was not fooled for a nanosecond — and everyone else was either bemused or appalled. Winston is red meat to Twyford's tofu stir fry and the Kiwi xenophobia voter knows the difference. 

The long term costs of Twyford's bigotry are incalculable, but my guess is they will be high. Labour has almost certainly lost a large number of votes from among Asian New Zealanders that may never return. Moreover, the party — as poor as the poorest of all church mouses — can kiss goodbye any prospect of winning donations from people after attacking their very right to be in the country. 

Internally, Twyford did not pay a price, but was rewarded with a promotion, for his racist gambit, the tsunami of intellectually dishonesty that followed, and the fact the whole endeavour miserably failed as a political exercise. No surprises there — Labour politicians have been routinely failing upwards for many years now, part of the disastrous culture within the organisation.

I've made clear in other places that I am on the look out for a candidate in Te Atatu who can stage a protest campaign against Twyford at the next election. I've run more than a few campaigns in my time and, although I might need to shake off some cobwebs, I've no doubt I could help such a candidate win enough votes — 2,000 should do it —  to deprive Twyford of victory. Te Atatu has a very high number of voters born outside NZ, including many Asian New Zealanders. Given that many of them would, like me, never contemplate supporting a National candidate, an independent, anti-racism candidate will have a ready audience. If you're out there, or know someone who's thinking of running such a campaign, let me know and I will happily volunteer my time and experience, however stale it may have become. Email me at Phil.quin@gmail.com and let's start the discussion. 

A Twyford defeat in Te Atatu won't affect the number of Labour's MPs or the party's meagre chances at forming the next government. It would, however, in no uncertain terms, serve as a warning to current and future politicians: Kiwis from all walks of life agree there's no place in our country for race-baiting of the kind Phil Twyford has come to personify. Forcing him to cling on to his parliamentary salary through a fortuitously high list position is less than the consequences his disgraceful conduct deserves — but it's a hell of a start.