If there’s one thing that the National opposition appears keen to signal, it’s that they think a lot of things are virtue signalling
In an interview with the Spinoff a little over a year ago, then prime minister and National Party leader Bill English was asked whether he considered himself a feminist. Though he believed in equal rights for women, came the reply, he would not want to “confuse people” by using the term. For a man to do so, he suggested, would amount to “virtue signalling”.
The term has been adopted by finger wavers across the spectrum but has been especially embraced by the right. It is deployed to denounce statements regarded as vacuous or disingenuous efforts to demonstrate goodness, without any real substance. There’s no denying that it captures something real. The trouble is, much in the way its pejorative cousin, “politically correct”, can be substituted via a plugin with the words “being decent to people”, “virtue signalling” sometimes seems like it would be better swapped out for “doing/supporting a good thing”.
In explaining his reluctance to call himself a feminist, English said: “I just think of all the smart, motivated, determined women that I work with. And virtue signalling is not really something that matters to them much.” Maybe, but judging by the recent remarks of his former colleagues, they think about virtue signalling a lot.
Here are some of the things that they’ve called virtue signalling …
Men calling themselves feminists is virtue signalling – Bill English
Calling for fewer old white men in boardrooms is virtue signalling. – Simon Bridges
The Child Poverty Reduction Bill is full of virtue signalling – Paula Bennett
The Labour Party’s rhetoric on parental leave is virtue signalling – Simon Bridges
Jacinda Ardern’s appeal to Australia on Manus Island is virtue signalling – Simon Bridges
Signing the UN Clean Seas campaign is virtue signalling – Scott Simpson
The introduction of the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill was virtue signalling – Michael Woodhouse
Labour and the Greens’ environment pledges are virtue signalling – Scott Simpson
The government’s approach to law-making is virtue signalling – Simon O’Connor
The thing that will ultimately bring down the government is virtue-signalling. – Chris Bishop
Receiving a petition from Greenpeace is virtue signalling. – Judith Collins
Jacinda Ardern’s trip to Europe is virtue signalling. – Judith Collins
The government is just generally useless and virtue signalling – Judith Collins
Judith Collins is not virtue signalling. – Judith Collins
The lesson of all this? Maybe just an appeal to variety: why not expand your idiomatic horizons – after all, there are so many other powerful colloquial expressions that might be given a chance in our theatres of democracy. “Snowflake”, for example, has only been used to date in parliament in reference to weather or ice cream. “Social justice warrior” hasn’t been touched at all. And this is the solitary example of the most dynamic and timeless slur of all:
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