During a political debate on Easter trading hours this week, Ron Mark objected to comments Ms Lee made and said, “I want to go on to the other comments of Melissa Lee… from Korea, as Wikipedia says.”
“And Melissa Lee told the House in her rather condescending manner, which she’s becoming renowned for, that we need to grow up in New Zealand – well, I’ve got a short message: if you don’t like New Zealand, go back to Korea.
I’ve talked about the comms strategy behind this before. Political operatives call it ‘closing the circuit’ and we see it all the time in New Zealand politics. You say something contentious – usually bigoted – that you know a group of voters you’re appealing too will like; the targets of your comment or their political allies object, the media covers the story because of the conflict and the ‘debate’ about whether the comments were offensive or racist or whatever, and the bigot gets coverage and (they hope) a boost in the polls.
The backdrop to all of this is that New Zealand First seems to have picked up as many soft Labour voters as they’re going to get, they’ve picked up a lot of the Conservative Party voters and now they’re targeting older white provincial National voters. So drawing attention to the fact that National has a Korean migrant as an MP is a very astute political tactic for Ron Mark, because this is a demographic of people that are often hostile to Asian migrants.
National has backed their MP and condemned Mark’s comments, but that’s exactly what he wanted them to do. It would be nice to think there’s a way to condemn racist attacks in a way that doesn’t play into the racist’s hands and give them exactly what they want.