Saturday, March 12, 2016

Karl du Fresne: Perhaps not this time, but there will be a change of flag

  
Even as I opened the envelope containing the ballot papers for the flag referendum, I wasn’t sure which way I was going to vote. I surprised myself by seriously considering giving my tick to the status quo, despite being in favour of change.

That might seem perverse, but I reasoned that if we’re going to have a new flag, it should be one that the country is prepared to unite behind.

Clearly, that’s not going to happen. The flag debate has uncorked a lot of anger and resentment. I don’t think anyone (least of all John Key) expected it to be so inflamed.

Much of that anger has little to do with flags. Even so, it can’t be ignored.

A flag is supposed to be a symbol of national unity. It would be a bad start if a large segment of the population hated the new ensign and deeply resented having it imposed on them.

I thought that perhaps the best option in the circumstances was to accept that the flag issue had been irreversibly contaminated by politics, and to buy time by voting against change.

I reasoned that once the heat had subsided – which would probably mean once Key has moved on, since much of the opposition to the new flag is about him – we could revisit the issue.

Perhaps we could then have a calmer discussion.  We might also be able to draw on the lessons of the past few months by coming up with a fresh range of alternative designs.

That was another factor that made me hesitate before I cast my vote. In last year’s referendum, I favoured Kyle Lockwood’s red, white and blue design. 

Most New Zealanders who supported change did the same, but democracy can yield imperfect results. The design that voters ranked as their favourite in the referendum finished second, by a hair’s breadth, once votes for all the other options were taken into account.

So we ended up with what I and many others regarded as a second-best option. Lockwood’s red, white and black design was not one that I could feel wholly enthusiastic about.

That was the thinking, then, behind my hesitation over which way to vote. But in the end, I came back to my original position in favour of change.

Why? Principally, because I believe the present flag is an anachronism dating from a time when we were content to see ourselves as a distant appendage of a faded colonial power.

It’s one thing to value our historic ties to Britain, but quite another to be defined by them in the 21st century. The Union Jack represents a past that has become largely irrelevant.

We surely should feel sufficiently mature as a country to have our own distinct, instantly identifiable flag – one that’s in no danger of being confused with that of Australia.

There will never be 100 per cent agreement on what that flag should look like. But as the expatriate New Zealand entrepreneur Claudia Batten points out in the latest Listener, symbols, once entrenched, acquire a power of their own.

Not all Canadians wanted a change of flag in 1964, still less the maple leaf, but they grew to embrace it once it was adopted. There’s an important lesson there.

And another thing. People sneer at the Lockwood design as resembling a tea-towel or a corporate logo, but you could say the same – and worse – about many nation flags. In any case, I have yet to discover what mystical quality distinguishes a flag from a logo.

The truth, I suspect, is that many of those who criticise it on aesthetic grounds have other reasons for resisting change. Aesthetic objections often serve as a smokescreen for political emotions.

Here we get to the core of the hysteria – not too strong a word – over the flag.

I accept that many people oppose change for perfectly legitimate reasons: tradition, for example, and loyalty to New Zealand’s British links. But unquestionably, the debate has been distorted by extraneous factors.

For many voters on the left, the referendum is seen as an opportunity to strike at Key. That factor contaminated the debate from day one.

A recent One News Colmar Brunton poll gave a clue to the extent to which the debate has been politicised. Its most striking finding was that 76 per cent of Labour voters were in the “no” camp.

Given that Labour is historically the party of change, it was telling that on this issue its supporters appear to have discovered a hitherto unsuspected streak of conservatism. Perhaps they were taking their cue from the party’s leadership, whose position on the issue has been ambivalent, if not downright contradictory.

Having proposed a change of flag in its 2014 election policy, Labour couldn’t bring itself to support the proposal when Key picked it up, and instead grizzled endlessly about the process.

One reason I finally decided to vote for change, in fact, is that I resent the way political interests hijacked what should have been a reasoned, informed debate. I don’t want to give the hijackers the satisfaction of an overwhelming victory.


And while I’m almost certain to be on the losing side this time around, I’m confident that those who vote for change will ultimately be shown to have been on the right side of history.

Karl du Fresne blogs at karldufresne.blogspot.co.nz First published in the Manawatu Standard and Nelson Mail.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Karl du Fresne, quote “is that I resent the way political interests hijacked what should have been a reasoned, informed debate.” unquote

Nowhere in his article has Karl touched on the skulduggery Mr Key and his flag changing cronies have employed to sway voters? ie using celebrities and school children.

Hindi instructions on flag referendum papers told voters to "tick the flag you want to be the 'new' New Zealand flag".

Russian translates as 'Put a tick next to the flag that in your opinion 'should become' the New Zealand flag'.

Imaging the proposed flag before our current flag in the news media, also top position in the voting paper.

And no doubt other instances of political underhandeness, despicable people.

We were not asked if we wanted change, were told to make a choice….

Anonymous said...

The long-term agenda behind a flag change to remove the Union Jack is to move New Zealand out the what we might term "the Anglosphere" with its longstanding traditions of the rule of law, secure private property rights, democratically elected limited government, religious tolerance and pluralism, free markets, and individual rights and freedoms, and into what we might call "the Horisphere."

The end game is new flag, constitutional republic, and the Treaty of Waitangi (or rather its bogus principles) written into the Constitution), thus permanently embedded Key's racist Maori Party mates with an ever-declining amount of Maori blood as an unelected aristocracy lording it over the rest of us forever.

New Zealand the way you want it?

Barry said...

I agree with Anonymous at 9:13 AM on March 13 2016.

paul scott said...

The call for investigation and legal action over the contrived and manipulated way this flag show has evolved is growing stronger. The Electoral commission sent out voting papers to recent arrivals here, who do not qualify [ less than 12 months continuous ]
Many of these new arrivals have no idea whether Key is the son of a King or a freezing worker; or whether we have a British Colonial past or were the result of a Japanese invasion.
One such person is my exotic Wife, so I voted for her without her permission, and will make a formal complaint against myself. Anyway they are not New Zealanders and should not be voting
Key deserves a thrashing for this effort at self aggrandizement; the introduction of a basketball team flag, and with a rugby player to promote it.
There will be High Court action here and he is going to get some very bad memories from this whole debacle
Many people really did not know how preferential voting works. This in itself was a contrived and dishonest design.
But the wording on foreign language papers takes the cake . In fact a deliberate attempt to get non New Zealanders to vote for change. Key is floating in the water with a silver fern wrapped round his testicles on this whole process.
The basket ball flag does not do well either, inside the parameters of Vexillology. The fern is too soft and too big.
We have remarkable lack of pride in our flag. In many countries you can visit there will be a flag outside so many homes, and often lining the street. I am a centre right voter. I have our flag stuck on the bonnet of my car. Flag change = No

Ron Atkin said...

I think its nice that we live in a country where we were given the chance to have input. Don't most flags go up courtesy of a conquering army? Do the "No" voters really love the existing flag so much?? We wear Kiwi's and Ferns with pride; not that irrelevant poorly crafted rag. But most of the public are very ordinary, so alas we will get a very ordinary result.

Anonymous said...

If we had been well informed exactly how the preferential voting system worked, most people I know, all of whom want the Kyle Lockwood red flag option, would have made just one vote. It seems to have been a deliberate lack of education to get the flag Key wanted. I have not met one person who wanted the winning flag - they all, bar a couple who prefer to keep the current flag, wanted the red option.Despite getting a vote the process was undemocratic.It will be really sad if we don't get a new flag because the government made such a mess of the process. We are certainly no longer relevant to Britain where New Zealanders are treated like aliens and because they have to get rid of immigrants somewhere and must allow EU residents in, NZ'ers and Australians are the losers. Regardless of the fact WE fought their wars and now those many of whom they were fighting get preferential treatment. NO, we must get rid of any reference to Britain from our National flag. They are not friends any more.

Anonymous said...

My vote for no change was simpler: I just don't believe any of the ANZACs fell for John Keys flag and seeing the large and increasing numbers of younger people attending ANZAC commemorations, I think we might be a couple of generations away from a flag change.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 10.07am, I voted for the blue and black flag as did my partner, one parent, 2 sons and daughter in law. As far as I am aware their friends in their late 20's also voted the blue, black flag with the fern. I believe that many of those pro the existing flag are also anti John Key and if he now favoured the old flag they would change their minds and vote for the new one. Petty really.
Heard Ali Mau on the radio today saying that she did not like the design of the new flag and thought it could be better, makes me wonder what she sees in the current flag with a union jack and 4 stars, hardly that creative!
As far as I am concerned its a forgone conclusion, I will purchase and fly the new designed flag whether it gets more votes or not. At least it is recognizable, more than can be said for the current one on a windless day.

David Jones said...

I think of the New Zealand flag as the 'Stars and Crosses' - the stars, Southern Cross, for our place in the world, the crosses of Saints George, Patrick and Andrew for where most of our ancestors hailed from and from where the best of our institutions originated and the blue background is the blue of the Pacific Ocean from where our earliest settlers hailed. These are the basis of our origins as a nation and have nothing to do with contemporary British politics or fashionable revisionist histories of the colonial era. This flag has served us well for over 100 years and is readily distinguishable to all who really matter. So what if our flag is vaguely similar to the Australian flag. We each know our own flag as an Italian can tell the difference between his flag and an Irish flag just as a Dutchman can tell the difference between his flag and a French flag. To those who cannot tell these differences it really does not matter they obviously have little engagement with the country in question. How many of us can readily identify ALL of the flags of the world's individual nations?

Anonymous said...

I was glad the referendum gave us a chance to put a bit of New Zealand on the New Zealand flag. Everyone I know liked the Blue and Black Lockwood version..

The silver fern is as old as us.was first worn by NZ troops in shooting Competition . during The Maori Wars in the 1870s., literally a real ern was worn sticking out jacket pocket and its on the headstones of all NZ troops killed in action. It went on the ABs jersey 1893. .Having Black and the Fern on our flag ties in with the emblems we actually use to identify ourselves to the world. Sure many despise John Key and so are tempted to protest vote against the flag just to spite him but he won't be round forever and is that protest more important than removing the Union Jack - now often seen as the symbol of Colonial and Celtic Oppression from the NZ Flag?
PS if you don't want the flag to change you don't have to post back your referendum form