John Tamihere's 'sieg heil' lets Phil Goff off the hook on his claimed ban

Want to know how to make your opponent’s weakness your own? Ask Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere. A politician with a history of verbal gaffes, last night he threw out a “sieg heil” at a debate with incumbent Phil Goff and turned his stance on free speech into a cavalier attitude towards fascism.

At the latest of dozens of mayoral debates – this time in Ponsonby – Goff was in full swing championing Auckland’s diversity, when Tamihere blundered in with his ill-judged dig. Goff’s impassioned rhetoric on diversity has become his standard response to what is actually a weak spot of his campaign and a controversy that saw him named as a defendant in a recent court case.

The court case has been taken against Auckland Council, its Facilities arm and Goff for the decision last year to ban alt-right nationalist advocates Lauren Southern and Stephan Molyneux from speaking at a council venue. It’s a complaint about free speech.

I know about this case and how Goff responds to questions about it because I hosted a debate between the pair at Somervell Presbyterian in Remuera last week. The case has exposed Goff because at the time he claimed the decision to ban the Canadians was his, in an attempt to look like he was taking a tough anti-racism line.

Amidst the controversy last year, Goff appeared on Morning Report and was asked by Gyles Beckford if it was really him who made the decision. His answers were full of “I…” statements.

“I made a decision totally in line with the policy of Auckland Council… I am not going to aid and abet people who spout racist nonsense by providing them with a venue… I took that initiative in line with clear Council policy… I am not going to provide them with a venue…”.

The problem with that is the mayor has no power to ban anyone from Council venues. That responsibility lies with council staff. And affidavits to the court make it clear officials made the decision to ban Southern and Molyneux without consulting Goff.

Whatever your view of the decision, Goff misrepresented the facts. It looks as though he was claiming credit for something as an act of political opportunism and got caught.

At our debate Goff three times denied claiming it was his decision. Three times I read him the Report transcript and even in the face of black and white evidence he continued to deny he had claimed credit and tried to pivot to his opposition to the racism of Southern and Molyneux and the importance of a multi-cultural Auckland.

That’s what it appears Goff was doing when Tamihere decided to respond to the mayor with a “sieg heil to that”.

It was an attempt to paint Goff as der fuhrer; a dictator forcing his views on others and not allowing dissent. Tamihere was trying to paint himself as the liberal one.

But to attempt that with the casual use of a fascist catchphrase in these times is gob-smackingly unwise.

You could see at the debate I hosted, Tamihere tries the zingers and one-liners, but few hit their mark. Most just aren’t sharp, quick or clever enough. But this just looks like he’s being flippant about Nazis.

The looseness has been a key part of Tamihere’s campaign. The post I was going to write today was about the difficulty – nay, impossibility – of him delivering on the many and varied promises he has made this campaign.

From a rates freeze and selling 49 percent of Watercare to an 18-lane harbour bridge, he’s been laying out flimsy policies he has no ability to deliver on. The bottomline is that he won’t get a majority around the Council table for any of those things. The feeder lanes alone would put the kaibosh on any bridge widening of that scale. But still he promises and promises knowing he can’t deliver.

At the Somervell debate, Tamihere admitted that despite repeatedly stating that he intended to sell 49 percent of Watercare to the ACC or Super Fund, he has not spoken to them about it. He said, for example, that he had spoken to someone at Watercare about the ACC, not the ACC itself, while Goff mocked him, saying he had claimed to have spoken to the ACC at other debates.

And one policy promise he made, which didn’t get picked up by news media, was that he would ban Lime scooters in Auckland until proper safety regulations were put in place.

Gone. Off the street, until they are regulated, however long that would take.

Through it all, Goff has gritted his teeth and kept to his tepid, tweaking promises, typified by a promise to take bus subsidies for kids from around 47 percent to 50 percent.

Woah, Nelly! Hardly a big idea to compel turnout.

Tamihere, for all his hot air, has been pushing the big ideas and hoping that people are annoyed enough with Auckland Council that they will elect him on an IOU and the Boris Johnson-like permission to figure it all out once you get in there.

So could a comment like this, in a Johnsonian or Trump-esque way polarise and get media cut-through? Perhaps. But it’s hard to imagine it doing anything but damage to the West Aucklander.

Now, Tamihere has just reminded people to ask questions of his judgement. To remember his past gaffes. To wonder why in this year of all years someone running for such a powerful office would, as the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand put it, use language associated with race hatred in a throwaway manner.

This issue should have been about Goff’s dishonesty and over-reach, but now it’s about Tamihere’s lack of judgement. Even in today’s mixed up political world, it’s hard to win an election when you show a cavalier attitude towards the language of fascism.