David Seymour's real mistake was misreading the mood of the public.
As cringe-worthy as the "team of 5 million" catchphrase now is, the sentiment is spot on. There is a national sense of working together to get out of this lockdown. This time, that effort includes getting jabbed.
Many won't care what it takes, as long as we get those jab rates up. In the spirit of pragmatism, many may look past their usual objections to racial favouritism just to get the thing done.
So when the Act leader released the Māori vaccine priority code on social media along with a message encouraging anyone to use it, he looked anything but constructive. To many, he likely looked juvenile.
Social media went nuts on him. Social media is a terrible barometer of what normal people think, but the outrage was on a level hard to ignore. In real life, it was hard to find support for him too.
After about a day it seemed to dawn on Seymour that he'd made a reasonably big mistake. At least, that's the impression he gave when he wrote a Herald opinion piece defending himself. He's smart enough to know explaining is losing. Haters gonna hate, no matter how cogent the explanation.
That opinion piece was clearly designed to prevent his new Act voters falling out of love with him. There's a chance those who've recently drifted over from National and Labour find the emerging race-relations debate too awkward.
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It's a rare misstep from Seymour. He's otherwise nailed his response on any number of fronts for months now. He's looked constructive, considered and clear in his thinking. He has become the hope for right-leaning voters, as the National Party hobbles from mini-crisis to mini-crisis. Seymour can take the lion's share of the credit for managing to lift Act from 0.5 per cent at the 2017 election to 13 per cent today. It's the reason he's beating National's Judith Collins in PM popularity polls.
His success is probably part of the reason the outrage was so intense. It was surprising to see him put a foot wrong. The other reason is that he finally gave left-leaning critics something to attack him on. They would've loved blunting one of the sharpest needles pricking holes in Labour's Covid response.
But, criticising him on style is about all you can level at Seymour. On substance, he did little wrong. You can't with a straight face accuse him of a racist agenda, like Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson has. He is part-Māori himself. You can't accuse him of actually sabotaging the Māori vaccine roll out, like Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer has. Vaccine stations are reportedly jabbing all walk-ups, regardless of race.
Although Seymour fluffed the delivery, the point he was actually making was a fair one. He was objecting to the unfairness of the Government giving Māori a special vaccine code. Handing out that code was probably no more than a bit of PR trickery anyway. A code is hardly going to address the systemic reasons for Māori not turning up for the jab at the same rate as other ethnicities.
A code won't undo vaccine misinformation, it won't relocate isolated communities closer to jab sites and it won't reschedule inflexible work shifts.
Racial unfairness is something Labour might become increasingly vulnerable on. For a while at the start of the national level 4 lockdown, the Labour Government banned everyone from fishing, except Māori with customary rights. The logic of that was so hard to defend - given Covid doesn't exempt Māori from infection - they dropped the rule and treated every Kiwi the same. Likely, they realised they were getting dangerously close to offending the value Kiwis care about above all others: fairness.
Seymour's onto something with his criticism of Labour on this front. He just needs be careful with the treatment.