Prosser is making mainstream politicians look progressive

MPs from all political parties – except for New Zealand First – are loving the Richard Prosser scandal. It’s an opportunity for them all to put forward their anti-racist credentials. In fact there is now almost a bidding war going on to see who can be the most outraged and condemning of the reactionary MP and his woeful ‘Wogistan’ statements. Yet isn’t something a bit contradictory about this, when in the same week, the Government announce – to muted disagreement – that New Zealand’s refugee policy will become even more reactionary? 

The rush of all and sundry to (rightfully) condemn and lampoon Richard Prosser’s islamophobic orientation towards Muslims has been stark. Once again this illustrates just how anti-racism and liberal-tolerance has been embraced by nearly all of the political class. Woe betide any MP or party leader that is not unequivocal in their condemnation of Prosser. Witness the sorry state that Labour’s David Shearer got himself into by his less than equivocal criticism when he said that it was an issue for Prosser’s own party. Shearer has since toughed his stance.

Interestingly, it's been the political right that has been the strongest on the issue. After all, it was David Farrar that broke the story, and it’s been the Government that issued the strongest and quickest condemnation.
This also goes to show how outdated the left's notion is of anti-racism being the preserve or specialty of the left. So we have politicians of the right – Judith Collins in particular – being able to pose as strident critics of racism, bigotry and intolerance. Collins put out a statement about valuing ‘diversity’ and an ‘inclusive society’ and criticising ‘appalling’ views ‘based on their religion, skin colour, country of origin’. John Key has also been strident, saying that Prosser’s comments are ‘appalling’. So Collins and Key – along with the National Party and Government – now look like beacons of progressiveness.

And by and large the National Party is increasingly part of the liberal consensus on diversity and ethnicity. Gone are the days of social conservatism dominating the National Party. The new brand is very much of urban social liberals, not reactionary rurals.

Other political leaders that have in past been criticised as conservative and reactionary on social issues, have also been able to use the occasion to step up and prove how progressive they are. Witness Phil Goff, demanding ‘an absolute withdrawal and apology’ from Prosser and suggesting he resign from Parliament. Hone Harawira – who has a history of all sorts of controversial statements on race, particularly that he would disapprove of his daughter dating a Pakeha – has come out labelling Prosser’s statements as ‘dumb’, ‘racist’ and saying that Prosser has a ‘tiny little mind’. But overall, it’s been National that has probably won the competitive rivalry about who can be the most outraged by Prosser.

Yet in the same week those very same forces are implementing reactionary policies that will actually have a 'real' negative impact on those from oppressed ethnic groups making up the region’s refugee population. So once again, mainstream politicians are able to impressively show how anti-racist they are while actually implementing – or being relatively silent on – real-world policies that will have an actual hugely material effect on ethnic minorities.

What the whole Prosser scandal has proven is that New Zealand isn’t actually a society full of bigots and rednecks, nor is our Parliament full of out-and-out reactionaries. Quite the contrary – people like Prosser have been shown to be an aberration. There’s nothing particularly new about this. Mainstream politicians in New Zealand have been using official anti-racism to their advantage for quite some time. But it’s the real world policies that actual matter.

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