Winston Peters obviously had something of a deprived childhood. Those cheap Christmas crackers whose contents, along with the mandatory plastic whistles and keyrings, inevitably include the old joke about there being too many "wong numbers in a Chinese telephone directory" must never have graced the Peters family's Yuletide dinner table.

Likewise, Peters' brothers must not have on-passed to Young Winston their copies of those bastions of such humour, the Beano and Dandy.

How else to explain Peters' "two Wongs don't make a right" excuse for a joke, which he purported to have been unaware of until a Chinese man in Beijing told him it.

Who does Peters think he is fooling? The joke is so old it creaks. His repeating of it at his party's campaign launch last Sunday was very deliberate.

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Was it racist? Most certainly - especially in the eyes of the Chinese community, who should not have to put up with such childish tripe.

Is it dated? Most definitely. If you have not heard of Beano or Dandy, let alone perused copies of either comic, then you are not part of New Zealand First's market demographic. And Peters would be delighted by that.

His success has always been based on picking up the votes of those who still live in the 1950s and 1960s and who considered The Benny Hill Show to be high art and saw nothing odd or unsettling in singers and dancers blackening their faces on The Black and White Minstrel Show.

It was a very different world - one which some New Zealanders have found hard to relinquish because the issues - like the television sets of the time - were always black and white.

Peters' drawcard - pulled out for the umpteenth time at Sunday's launch - is that he can re-create the Promised Land that was New Zealand in that era.

Peters knows that will not happen. He knows he is selling an illusion. Fine. That is his democratic right. But it is not within his rights to ferment a volatile political cocktail by not only pitting race against race, but also generation against generation.

Perhaps the real tragedy is that the rest of us are so bewitched by his oodles of charm that we find it impossible to ignore him. And more is the pity.

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