Sunday, December 6, 2015

Karl du Fresne: In the end, ranking the flag options was easy

I hesitated for a couple of days before casting my vote in the flag referendum last week. I thought it might be too difficult.
I can be a shocking ditherer. Just deciding what to have for breakfast can leave me paralysed with indecision. But as it turned out, when the flag choices were starkly set out in front of me, I made up my mind almost instantly.

I had the advantage of having seen all five flags flying alongside one another only days before. They were flapping in a stiff north-westerly, which is how flags are most often seen in our wind-buffeted country. But I also saw how they looked during lulls in the gale, so was able to assess their merits both under stress and in repose.

I opted for the Kyle Lockwood design featuring the silver fern and the Southern Cross, but with red in the top-left quadrant rather than the black of the other Lockwood design included in the five alternatives.

Is it wise to reveal how I voted? Probably not, given the vehemence of the flag debate. I should probably brace myself for hate mail and death threats.

The intensity of people’s feelings about the referendum has been a surprise. All sorts of strange emotions have been uncorked. 

A debate about the flag is all very well, but this one has become overheated to the point of inciting paranoia. On a talkback radio station last week, I heard a caller say he had phoned the Electoral Commission because he was worried that if he placed the figure 1 in the square underneath his favoured design, someone might turn it into a four.

Another caller was convinced that the ballot paper had been designed so as to subtly encourage voters to support John Key’s personal favourite, which was the first option on the left. 

It’s almost comically ironic that the country is tearing itself apart over what’s supposed to be a symbol of unity. But since I’ve declared my first preference, I might as well go further and list the order in which I ranked the designs.

My No 2 choice was the black and white silver fern and No 3 was the second Lockwood design. I ranked the koru fourth and the so-called red peak last. If there was a way of showing that I felt the red peak should have been an extremely distant last, I would have so indicated.

Explaining why I voted the way I did is difficult because these things are subjective, but I found the two Lockwood designs aesthetically pleasing and unmistakeably emblematic of New Zealand, which is surely what a flag is supposed to be. This is not to say there may not be better alternatives.

The monochromatic fern I quite liked because it’s simple, clean and emphatic. The koru design, too, is graphically strong and would be instantly recognisable wherever it was flown.

People have attacked some of these designs as resembling corporate logos, but I have yet to see anyone explain what mysterious quality distinguishes a flag from a logo. Neither can I see how the red peak magically avoids the disparaging logo comparison.

A flag, it seems to me, is simply a national logo as opposed to a corporate one. Its essential qualities, surely, are that it should be instantly recognisable and should engender feelings of identification, empathy and pride.

The Lockwood design strikes me as being capable of doing all these things, although it may take time (as it did for Canadians to embrace the maple leaf).

On the other hand, the red peak design fails from every standpoint. But the very fact that it was included in the referendum, at the last minute and largely as a result of a noisy social media campaign, says a lot about how the flag debate has been derailed.

The proposal for a new flag is widely regarded as John Key’s vanity project. It therefore was seen by his opponents as a means of damaging him politically.

Key may poll highly but he’s nonetheless a polarising figure. People who dislike him, and there are plenty of them, have used the flag debate as an opportunity to get at him.

You’d have to say they largely succeeded. The late inclusion of the red peak design was seen as a defeat for Key because he’s known to favour a flag featuring the silver fern.

In other words the issue has been politicised in a way that might not have happened had the change of flag been promoted by someone less polarising. 

If the binding referendum in March results in a decisive rejection of the new flag, as seems likely, it could be as much a vote against Key as a statement of support for the present ensign. We won’t know, because the waters have become too muddied.

An opportunity for an emphatic new statement of nationhood may have been lost because the issue has become so politicised.  But at least no one will be able to say it hasn’t been thoroughly debated.

Karl du Fresne blogs at First published in the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard.


Unknown said...

My wife and I threw our ballot papers in the bin, But we sure as hell will vote in the second ballot, we are not against a flag change as such, but not under these circumstances, after over 40 years voting, John Key and National have had the last of our support, they are far too eager to waste our hard earned tax dollar on this sort of thing and handing our country over to part Maori racists and bringing apartheid to our once great country. They don't want to tell Pharmac to fund a cancer drug, but are more than happy to fork out 600 million every year on promoting the Maori language. Funny that!!

Barry said...

Hear hear Stevo!

I agree with you about the government's garbage spending, especially about the part-Maori garbage spending!

Mary P. said...

Well said! I absolutely agree.We need more comments like this.

Justme said...

Hi Karl,
I voted exactly the same way you did.

Sarah said...

Hi Karl. On my (completely unscientific) poll I reckon that the red-white-blue fern & stars will come in first - now we just have to wait and see.

Unknown said...

Yes, $40 billion to maori greed yet can't fund a drug that could benefit all kiwis. As for the flag vote, we were exactly the same as Stevo.
Key and Finlayson are the most anti-democratic spineless politicians in our history. Finlayson getting in by the list had been rejected 4 times by the people, yet Key still gives him an open chequebook to richen his ex-employer. And all the other gutless MPs too afraid to say Bridges and co...their only role is to nod when Key speaks.

Robert Mann said...

I have sent in my ballot, with all 5 options ranked 0
I feel it is a more effective criticism of this mischievous distraction to register an unambiguously invalid vote, as a positive expression of antagonism to the whole plurry furphy, rather than merely to keep the total vote as low as possible by not sending in anything.

jh said...

An opportunity for an emphatic new statement of nationhood may have been lost because the issue has become so politicised.
Rich given that the labour government set about to change the ethnic make up of NZ based on Marxist "anti-racist" precepts while the property/construction/immigration industry saw the big advantage (for them) and threw their weight behind it?

Kevan said...

Although the flag is not the "holy grail", one must take the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown to become a politician. Perhaps I am being harsh, but to my way of thinking, anybody who takes the Oath, then wants to change the flag, is nothing short of treason. What next, knocking the Crown off the Coat of Arms? If he gets a knighthood for that, I believe that they will be giving them away with packets of tea!

Anonymous said...

I put the Koru at number one because I though it would be the most unpopular. The rest I put at number five except for that ghastly Red Peak at number six. So the Koru vote should be counted and the rest should be informal if I've done it wrong in the right sort of way.

Anonymous said...

A lot of nonsense has been written about what the NZ flag stands for. In the morning or the evening on a military base when an officer gives the command "Stand Fast!" everyone within earshot turns towards the flag pole and stands to attention. The officer then turns and salutes as the flag is raised or lowered. He is not saluting the flag. He is, with his open hand, acknowledging the authority of the Sovereign which is what the flag represents and is all that it represents. The flag on such occasions will be the New Zealand Blue Ensign if it is an army camp or it could be a regimental flag. If it is and RNZAF base it will be the Royal New Zealand Air Force Ensign or if a Royal New Zealand Naval base the New Zealand White Ensign. The Queen’s Personal Flag of New Zealand does not have the Union Jack on it, neither does the Governor General’s Flag and some of the regimental flags don’t either but Regimental Queen’s Colours do. The New Zealand Red Ensign has the Union Flag on it as does the New Zealand White Ensign, The RNZAF Ensign, the New Zealand Civil Air Ensign and the Police and NZ Fire Service Flags. Anyone who wants to use the silver fern should google “All Blacks Feather” to see what the rest of the World thinks of it. All service member swear allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen and Her Heirs and Successors. Nobody swears allegiance to the elected government or to any politician.