The Dim-Post

August 14, 2015

Cynical thoughts on the flag referendum

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 6:41 pm

Not a lot of people like our flag. And loads of people still like our Prime Minister – so the lack of enthusiasm for his flag referendum is a little odd. What’s going on there?

The consensus on left-wing twitter is that the flag referendum is just a ‘distraction’ from whatever scandal is dogging the government that news-cycle. I don’t think that’s true. I think Key really wants to change the flag. Partly because he wants a legacy but also, mostly – I think – because, as Key said on the radio the other day, he genuinely believes it will be ‘worth billions’ of dollars over time.

The billions comment was widely mocked but I think it points us to where the drive for a flag referendum comes from. Key has been pitched this idea by someone (my prime suspect is former Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts) that a new distinctive flag will ‘enhance our brand’ and ‘add value’ to New Zealand as a product. The taxpayers have probably even paid for a report on it, or at least a power-point presentation in which pictures of Canadian flag-branded maple syrup and estimates of billions of dollars in added brand value were flashed in front of the PM’s face.

The current Saatchi CEO has a spot on the flag panel – along with standard National Party stalwarts like Rod Drury and Julie Christie- but there aren’t any designers on the panel, and, as many people pointed out when the flag long-list was released, not many of the contenders really look like flags. Flags are supposed to work on a symbolic level – they speak to our history and our identity as a nation, but none of that is even part of the debate. There isn’t any debate, unless its about whether the flag will be worth ‘billions’ or not. People don’t care.

And the reason, I think, is that Key and his panel aren’t choosing a flag. They’re choosing a logo. The replacement flag isn’t supposed to speak to our identity, it’s supposed to look snappy on our export products and help consumers in foreign markets distinguish our milk powder or kiwifruit from those of our competitors. Key’s clear preference is the silver fern, not because it symbolises New Zealand but because the flag is supposed to be a form of native advertising: whenever our athletes perform the fern will be ’embedded content’ adding value to our brand.

And Key – and whoever sold him on this idea – might be right about all of that. Maybe it’s worth loads. I don’t know.  I don’t really like the current flag, and I don’t have strong ideas about what the new one should be. And if we did have a big debate about ‘national identity’ it would probably be a horrible trainwreck. I’m just ruminating on why Key is doing this and why no one else really cares. People sense that the reason for the change is venal so they aren’t engaging.

70 Comments »

  1. “not many of the contenders really look like flags”

    Maybe not compared to what we’re used to, but why not have a silver fern or koru? Nothing wrong with being unique. It works well for the Nepalese.

    Like yourself Danyl I’ve never been a huge fan of what we have now. I’d personally rather end up with almost any of the ‘top 40’ over the current option.

    Comment by Bastiat — August 14, 2015 @ 6:53 pm

  2. Yes this is rebranding exercise. But that is at least a solid critique far superior to those who just reject the idea of a flag change because they won’t be able to claim the credit for it.

    Comment by Lee Clark — August 14, 2015 @ 7:01 pm

  3. those who just reject the idea of a flag change because they won’t be able to claim the credit for it.

    Individual artist credit seems to have no place in rebranding exercises. Trying to identify a culprit for the former Telecom’s Spark sphincter disappears into the mist of corporate claptrap

    Comment by Joe W — August 14, 2015 @ 7:27 pm

  4. I don’t think it’s possible to be too cynical about a $26 million dollar process that whittles 10,293 designs down to 40, then four, and finally one, and then puts that one new design up against the current flag. Would ANY new design stand a chance? I sent in more than twenty designs (including Phar Lap, Chocolate Fish and the Buzzy Bee flag Andrew Little brandished in Parliament a few weeks ago) just for fun, but the public’s disengagement with this exercise isn’t just because the shortlist is uninspiring – it’s because the outcome is predetermined.

    Comment by Grant Buist — August 14, 2015 @ 7:33 pm

  5. I personally don’t mind a flag change, but most if not all of the 40 chosen designs all look like they were ‘designed by committee’.

    Comment by Kumara Republic — August 14, 2015 @ 7:46 pm

  6. “The current Saatchi CEO has a spot on the flag panel – along with standard National Party stalwarts like Rod Drury and Julie Christie- but there aren’t any designers on the panel”

    I was surprised that so many of the short-list have a dominance of black. Everything I’ve heard about global flag symbolism is that black generally refers to things like death, famine, threatening others, and basically negative stuff. As interesting as some of the designs might be in their own right, I really don’t want NZ to have to spend the next hundred years trying to explain to people of other cultures why they shouldn’t be deeply offended by New Zealand’s flag, unless that’s what we’d all intended at the time of voting of course.

    Until now I’d naively figured that the panel was meant to be weeding out this type of stuff, or at least keeping voters informed, by applying expertise in actual flag design in parallel with the voting public, but the above would be consistent with why it doesn’t seem to have happened.

    Comment by izogi — August 14, 2015 @ 7:48 pm

  7. The whole flag thing makes me a bit sad and depressed for New Zealand as a country. Can anyone imagine the UK, France or the US changing their flag to make more money? Sure New Zealand is a young country, and not a greatly nationalist one. But New Zealand has had its moments on the world stage where it stood for more than just the best place to buy milk and sheep. Gallipoli, Monte Cassino and the anti-nuclear protests in the 1980s went a long way to showing the world what New Zealanders stood for. But that isn’t the case anymore. New Zealand today is a country where GDP is king, and everything else comes second. It’s hard to get too sad about this though because this is clearly what the majority of New Zealanders want.

    I used to think this was the direction of history (the corporatisation of the world) but more recently I’ve decided its a US-led phenomenon that will end when US power declines. When that eventually happens New Zealanders may regret throwing away what little history the current flag represented to try and make more money.

    Comment by Seb Rattansen — August 14, 2015 @ 8:04 pm

  8. Of course, New Zealand already has an alternative flag in the ensign of the United Tribes. It was, in fact, our first flag, gazetted in 1834 (and chosen by representatives of the northern chiefs in an election presided by James Busby and costing rather less than $24 million, even in old-time money). It still has a lot of affection among Maori, if only because it is a symbol of Maori sovereignty in New Zealand predating the Treaty of Waitangi, and it has a genuinely bicultural origin. It is highly distinctive, extremely conservative (even boring) in design, and it looks like a flag. It does not look like a corporate logo. It is anything but stylish. But most crucially, it actually represents an important (and deeply significant) part of our national history. If we must have a flag at all, and can’t hoist something suitably facetious like a bag of pineapple lumps up a flagpole, I’d recommend a return to the flag of the United Tribes. A few forward-thinking institutions (like the excellent Museum of Wellington City and Sea) fly it already.

    Comment by Higgs Boatswain — August 14, 2015 @ 8:13 pm

  9. I’ve decided I can avoid thinking about the whole flag debate by letting my 4 & 7 year old choose whatever option they like best. I’ll then vote for that. Saves angsting over the politics of it all.

    Having said that, I quite like the fact that NZ has multiple national symbols to choose amongst. There’s a formal flag for when we really need to have one, the silver fern for putting on backpacks in Europe, the Kiwi for our armed forces and “buy NZ made” campaigns, the koru for when we’re feeling a bit bi-cultury. The whole “we really need one symbol to rule them all” argument just seems wrong to me.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — August 14, 2015 @ 8:32 pm

  10. Key has not sought consensus around this process – that automatically politicised the entire debate; It is impossible not to feel you’ve handed him a personal victory just by engaging. He might even have got away with that in his first or even second term, but not in his third. Essentially, he’s distilled the debate down to the quintessential fault line in New Zealand politics – between those who primarily see this country as a place they live, and those who see this country primarily as a place to make their money. The former have no voice in the establishment but hold the light of nascent nationalism, often they have no choices in passport of location. the latter get to be on Key’s logo committee and retire to places that have the culture and amenities to better serve their wealth, like London, Geneva or Hawaii. In the end, if Key gets his way his new flag will simply serve as a visible and constant daily reminder of their status in an economic colony where they count for nothing, not even being allowed a few crumbs of national pride.

    Comment by Sanctuary — August 14, 2015 @ 8:55 pm

  11. “… simply serve as a visible and constant daily reminder of the FORMERS status…”

    Comment by Sanctuary — August 14, 2015 @ 8:57 pm

  12. To be honest, the Canadian flag probably looked very much like a logo when it was introduced. It still looks like one, and as you said, is still used like one. And there is nothing wrong with that, If you want to promote a product that is somehow uniquely from a country, you would most likely use something that people immediately recognise.

    The assessment that it may be worth billions is probably a bit far fetched, but has some truth to it. There is very little that we can do to promote a NZ product.

    I do like some of the new flags, Kyle Lockwoods version mostly. My personal favourite is Black Jack, though I believe that would be a bit to daring for most.

    Comment by eszett — August 14, 2015 @ 9:30 pm

  13. The whole “we really need one symbol to rule them all” argument just seems wrong to me.

    How about the “getting rid of an anachronism and choosing something of our own” argument then?

    Comment by eszett — August 14, 2015 @ 9:33 pm

  14. “Not a lot of people like our flag.”

    [Citation needed]

    “Key has not sought consensus around this process – that automatically politicised the entire debate”

    Given that a national flag is an innately political concept, it’s hard to imagine a debate that wasn’t politicised.

    Comment by Ubu — August 14, 2015 @ 10:00 pm

  15. Is there any real basis for the statement “not a lot of people like our flag”? Does anyone really like flags, outside of the likely to exist group of super fans and vexillologists?
    That being said, I agree, it really does seem like the lazy kind of rebranding. Nothing changes except a scrap of cloth. At least the last wave of rebranders in the 1990s had some amusingly silly ideas – like renaming the country the North and South Islands

    Comment by Juan Incognito (@juanincognito) — August 14, 2015 @ 10:15 pm

  16. Yes your comment makes sense in answering my complete confusion when I saw the forty chosen. I submitted my fathers Clark Titmans flag sorry cant work out how to put a picture in. This flag has significant history. John Moody secretary of NZ flag association has named him the father of flag change in new Zealand. It was first shown on the front page of the new zealand herald in `1967. There was various debates around it over the years in regards his intellectual property rights due to copies. He submitted a petition in 1990 to parliament. I took the flag to the final Hui at Waitangi where in listening to all the discussion regarding flag change I thought this flag answers every concern. It is genuinely unites us as a people and was well recieved.
    Has it not been selected because it is genuine competition. How can they make this such a debarcle.

    NO PICTURE SORRY. you’l see pictures on internet under Clark Titman NZ flag

    This the description

    Those who are calling for the adoption of the Southern Cross Flag, illustrated above, as the flag of New Zealand do so because it contains the part of our Blue Ensign which is historically and distinctly New Zealand; because it will not be confused with the flag of any other nation; because it is not dominated by the banner of any other country; and because it honours the Maori and British origins of our nation and acknowledges our cultural diversity.
    We believe that this Southern Cross Flag is a banner of dignity worthy of our unique nation. It is heraldically correct and cannot be faulted on the scores of design, concept or symmetry. It flies well and will not become dated. The Southern Cross representation on this flag is found on our coat of arms and on the Sovereigns Personal Flag for New Zealand, as are the colours red white and blue which are also found on our first flag representing The United Tribes of New Zealand. This new design will be easily recognised as the New Zealand Flag.

    The Southern Cross Flag retains the essentially New Zealand aspect of our present flag which is the Southern Cross or Te Kahui O Mahutonga.
    The stars of the Southern Cross signify many things to New Zealanders. As a sea-faring nation these stars have guided many peoples to our islands shores.
    Red pales are added to either side of the Southern Cross centre-piece. The pale nearest the hoist representing Maori (Tangata Whenua) for whom red is a symbol of mana.
    The red pale on the fly representing the British for whom red is also of significance.
    The white bands between the red pales and the Southern Cross centre-piece signify peace.
    This flag represents the partners and intention of our founding document The Treaty of Waitangi.
    It speaks to New Zealand, a peaceful Pacific country of many nationalities whose environment and people are protected by a unique treaty, that we as a nation are proud of.

    The current New Zealand flag is not immediately recognisable as New Zealand. Around the world an ensign with the Union Jack in the first canton and stars in the fly is taken to be an Australian or British flag. Our present flag not only fails to identify our nation and our nationals who fly it overseas, but here in New Zealand the Union Jack in the overwhelming first quarter identifies with our history as a British colony but is not representative for Maori and suggests we are a monocultural society rather than the multicultural one we are.
    We believe that this Southern Cross Flag will serve as a unifying factor in our society. It will add to our sense of national identity and mark us as a unique and independent nation around the world.

    Comment by themis Titman — August 14, 2015 @ 11:19 pm

  17. Of course, New Zealand already has an alternative flag in the ensign of the United Tribes.

    …and it looks like a flag.

    Yes. Unlike the corporate logo candidates on the longlist. I don’t have any great affection for the current one, but at least it looks like a fucking flag.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — August 14, 2015 @ 11:39 pm

  18. How has our society become so vacuous that ten of millions of dollars could be squandered on debating whether or not to change our National symbol that the 99% of NZders are not interested in.
    An issue as ridiculous as this is seems to trigger a landslide of absolute nonsense, change the flag, rewrite the National anthem, give the 3 Islands independent names. Even with a tongue in check I am sure there is someone out there taking notes saying to himself Yes, thats not a bad idea we’ll go with it. More smoke and mirrors from Key who always ends up smelling like roses.

    Comment by Woz — August 15, 2015 @ 12:01 am

  19. @Eszett

    How about the “getting rid of an anachronism and choosing something of our own” argument then?

    And here’s why this whole thing just makes my head hurt:

    (1) Is the current flag “an anachronism”? Or is it a link to our past (colonial, yes, but lots of other stuff too)? And if it’s time to sever those links, why just change a bit of cloth and not the constitutional links to the monarchy?

    (2) Do people feel they really are involved in “choosing something of our own” with the 40 new designs, or instead are being asked to participate in the equivalent of a corporate rebranding exercise? Do any of these designs really “represent us” in a truer/more authentic way than the current desing>

    So, like I say … I’ll go with whatever my kids thinks looks coolest/prettiest/nicest. It’s as good a metric as any other.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — August 15, 2015 @ 7:45 am

  20. ” if it’s time to sever those links, why just change a bit of cloth and not the constitutional links to the monarchy?”

    Two reasons (I agree with neither, for the record, I’m just trying to see things from others’ point of view). Firstly, that it’s easier to get people to agree to a symbolic repudiation of the monarchy than a substantial/legal repudiation. Secondly, there’s the belief that a change in the flag will cause people to become less sentimental and affectionate towards the monarchy, thus forming an important preliminary step on the road to a republic.

    Again, I don’t agree with either of these, but that’s my guess at what the argument would be.

    Comment by Ortvin Sarapuu — August 15, 2015 @ 8:02 am

  21. Not a lot of people like our flag.

    I’d have thought the referendum will answer that one way or another. If the public reject the new design, will you conclude that the current flag is very popular?

    Comment by Ross — August 15, 2015 @ 8:20 am

  22. “On a Saturday night at the end of February 1994 Fred Brownell’s phone rang. The voice on the other end asked him to get a new national flag designed – within a week.

    “It scared the living daylights out of me,” says Brownell, now 74 and living in retirement in Pretoria.
    Brownell was state herald, and had long known that the emerging new South Africa would need a new flag, but until this point he had not been asked to play a central role.

    Initially, members of the public had been asked for their ideas. Some 7,000 sketches had been sent in, but none was judged appropriate. Then the authorities had turned to design studios. That too proved fruitless.”

    http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27155475

    Sounds familiar…how about we adopt the same design as the SA flag, but tweak the colours? I find it interesting that various designs have been developed when an existing design is likely the answer…we seem to be trying to re-invest the wheel.

    Comment by Ross — August 15, 2015 @ 8:30 am

  23. Or re-invent!

    Comment by Ross — August 15, 2015 @ 8:33 am

  24. 1) Thanks to Danyl for clarifying for me why there are no flag designers on the panel, ie that it’s not a flag exercise but a brand exercise. That’s why there are brand experts such as Satchi, Drury and Christie on it.

    2) Consequently I predict the winning design will have a silver fern on it as that design is already a strong winning brand for NZ products including the All Blacks. I think it will be one of Kyle Lockwood’s designs and I will stick my neck out further and predict it will be his black white and blue version with red stars bordered in white.

    3) Re Andrew Geddes at 19(1) above, the focus by Key on the flag rather than the more substantive and important matter of head of state, is consistent with the government’s pattern of apparent rather than real reform in several areas including the phoney “increases” in benefits in the last budget, and the easily avoided speculators’ tax on land sales within two years of acquisition. And there’s another reason. I predict, with greater confidence than my flag prediction, Key will leave office with a knighthood, a bauble he is gagging for.

    Comment by Alan Ivory — August 15, 2015 @ 9:06 am

  25. I think your branding hypothesis nails it, Danyl.

    Unfortunately it makes the whole exercise infinitely more venal and distasteful.

    NZ Inc. writ large – a gauche spivocracy.

    Comment by Gregor W — August 15, 2015 @ 9:12 am

  26. The idea that a flag is anything more than a logo seems ridiculously sentimental to me.

    Comment by Ortvin Sarapuu — August 15, 2015 @ 9:22 am

  27. Given that all oliticians can’t be trusted but they are indispensable for a flag change or any move towards a constitution then basing ones opposition to such moves on the basis of what one thinks of politicians leaves one in a form of paralysis.

    Unless one believes that sometime in the future the nature of politicians will dramatically change for the better then the argument – I want to change the flag but don’t won’t to now because I don’t like the political motives – leads nowhere.

    Perhaps one can want and support a change because of ones own motives and accept that others might want the same change for more venal reasons.

    Otherwise it’s a long wait for the perfect world where politicians are honest and everyone wants something for the same reason.

    Comment by NeilM — August 15, 2015 @ 10:11 am

  28. In its truest sense, a flag is a logo.

    It’s the feelings that might be associated with the flag by an individual that may or may not be sentimental.

    What the PM is promoting though is a brand association (or in Kevin Roberts speak, a ‘love-mark’). This is not the sound basis for a national emblem.

    Comment by Gregor W — August 15, 2015 @ 10:24 am

  29. Any flag will be mean different things to different people.

    Key might have a view that one disagrees with but how does that influence ones own view? I can’t see how it can.

    I support a change for my own reasons, the reasons of others isn’t an influence.

    Comment by NeilM — August 15, 2015 @ 10:35 am

  30. NeilM – your last couple of comments make utterly no sense to me.

    Firstly, you’re the only person on this thread who is suggesting a position that we can’t wait till everyone agrees before embarking in any kind of change.

    Secondly, why state the bleeding obvious that symbols mean different things to different people?

    Thirdly, it defies logic to suggest that one persons point of view can’t positively or negatively influence another’s.

    I’m struggling to understand what your actual point is here. Help me out.

    Comment by Gregor W — August 15, 2015 @ 10:50 am

  31. I think I’ve made a number of points but the underlying theme is one can choose what the debate about changing the flag means to you individually.

    The change is going to happen, not taking part means your reasons for flag change play less of a role. If you want the change to be about a move to a republic then make it about that and argue that is what the change means.

    Comment by NeilM — August 15, 2015 @ 11:15 am

  32. Labour could stand up and say – this is what the flag change means to us. It means a move towards a republic, addressing past wrongs etc etc.

    If that’s what you want he change to represent.

    But of course politicians are venal and Labours opposition is just petulance.

    Comment by NeilM — August 15, 2015 @ 11:19 am

  33. “…Given that a national flag is an innately political concept, it’s hard to imagine a debate that wasn’t politicised….”

    As Thomas Mann reminds us, everything is ultimately political. What I mean is that Key has made partisan political – he is basically saying the vision of NZ he shares with his “aspirational” Hoskingsite sycophants is the only legitimate vision of what NZ means. Team Key is going to get it’s logo, and he is going to make sure it happens. If Key had been serious about changing the flag as a consensus he would have formed a cross party flag committee of elected representatives to come up with options, not a bunch of like minded fat cats and fellow travellers.

    Comment by Sanctuary — August 15, 2015 @ 12:45 pm

  34. Yes good point,anyone know how much that travelling Flag discussion panel are being paid and are there any seats left on that Gravy Train ?

    Comment by Woz — August 15, 2015 @ 1:05 pm

  35. The fern is found all over the world. Visitors from Malta asked to see a fern leaf. I looked in the bush near me and couldn’t define a silver fern.

    Comment by ianmac40 — August 15, 2015 @ 1:08 pm

  36. I think it’s obvious, as it is to my 80 years old mother, that the UK Ensign has to go. But replacing it with come callow logo? Yuck. Which is to say I pretty much agree with Danyl’s analysis.

    Comment by Fentex — August 15, 2015 @ 1:17 pm

  37. But of course politicians are venal and Labours opposition is just petulance.

    But of course politicians are venal and National’s support is just legacy building. FIFY.

    Comment by Flashing Light — August 15, 2015 @ 1:29 pm

  38. But of course politicians are venal and National’s support is just legacy building. FIFY.

    I’m not holding changes I’d like made to the ransom of awaiting perfect politicians.

    I’ve seen a lot of noses looking for their owners recently.

    Comment by NeilM — August 15, 2015 @ 2:51 pm

  39. That’s great, Neil! But given your statements about politicians being venal, you do agree that Key is just proposing this as a legacy burnishing exercise? After all, he did oppose ending appeals to the Privy Council. And he doesn’t want to end ties to the monarchy. So you’re supporting change in spite of the base motives of the person proposing it.

    Right?

    Comment by Flashing Light — August 15, 2015 @ 3:45 pm

  40. The flag debate disgusts me in a way few things too.

    A flag is not a brand. Countries are not economic entities (well, not in the sense of dollars and cents, yet in terms of utility)

    I want a) a Union Jack and b) something Maori if we are going to change. That’s it.

    NZ is a bicultural nation. We have a political system that traces back to Alfred the Great. We settled in a Maori land. Sorted.

    Comment by Lord Maths — August 15, 2015 @ 3:59 pm

  41. I support change because of my own reasons.

    I’ve always supported changing the flag.

    Key has reasons, I don’t really know what they are, but I don’t see how that alters mine.

    Comment by NeilM — August 15, 2015 @ 4:37 pm

  42. They don’t and shouldn’t. I’m just seeing whether you can be as cynical and condemnatory of John Key as you are of Labour. Apparently not.

    Comment by Flashing Light — August 15, 2015 @ 4:44 pm

  43. The flag design is the headline-grabber, but the real problem is the referendum process itself. That’s far more boring than looking at pictures, but it’s also far more important.

    It is a postal ballot. It is binding. That is a democratic debacle in waiting.

    Previously, a referendum has been postal and non-binding (e.g. smacking, asset sales) and nothing much happened after the votes were in. Or a binding referendum has been held on election day – the MMP vote. (We have also had non-binding referenda on election day in the distant past, but that idea seems to have been dropped, presumably because successive governments didn’t like the idea, the results being harder to ignore).

    It is simply absurd to combine lowest possible turnout (“what’s an envelope, dad? where do I put it?”) and highest possible effect (binding on all). In March 2016 the Prime Minister could well be facing a mess entirely of his own making. Ironically, his best escape would be a vote for no change. A very low turnout AND a compulsory change would be a disaster, not least among National’s own base.

    Personally I’d like to look at a new flag – or the old Maori one, mentioned above. But not this way.

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — August 15, 2015 @ 5:48 pm

  44. “It is simply absurd to combine lowest possible turnout (“what’s an envelope, dad? where do I put it?”) and highest possible effect (binding on all). In March 2016 the Prime Minister could well be facing a mess entirely of his own making.”

    At the very least I’d expect the second referendum (switch or keep) to have a high turnout, but it’s an interesting point. Are there any constraints, besides political, on a government’s ability to legislate to ignore a binding referendum after it’s happened? It’s not exactly a winning move but probably the best possible save, and something that can be explained away as so many other things have already been, if that were the outcome.

    Comment by izogi — August 15, 2015 @ 6:46 pm

  45. Are there any constraints, besides political, on a government’s ability to legislate to ignore a binding referendum after it’s happened?

    No. There aren’t.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — August 15, 2015 @ 8:05 pm

  46. “As Thomas Mann reminds us, everything is ultimately political. What I mean is that Key has made partisan political”

    Yes, in a sense everything is political, but a flag is political in a much more overt way than the irreducible political relevance of all things – a flag is a symbol used to show belonging and allegiance to a state. It’s hard to argue that it’s not, innately, an extremely political concept.

    You’re right in a sense that Key has “made” it partisan political, but I think that’s simply an inevitable result of the partisan take on most things. It’s interesting to me that a lot of the people who used to be extremely interested in changing the flag for its own sake are now against it simply because it’s being proposed by somebody they dislike. Perhaps they think that, if changing the flag was so revolutionary, Key wouldn’t be proposing it – but they shouldn’t be surprised, because there have always been fairly large numbers of conservatives who are in favour of changing it.

    So instead we have people saying that they are in favour of changing it, but they don’t like the -way- Key is changing it, and bringing up the various procedural quibbles we have seen here.

    Comment by Ortvin Sarapuu — August 15, 2015 @ 8:14 pm

  47. @NeilM


    Key has reasons, I don’t really know what they are, but I don’t see how that alters mine.

    Seems to me there’s nothing inherently wrong with thinking something along the lines of “I don’t like the current flag and would prefer to change it for something better, but the present process of change is being conducted in a way that will a produce a sub-optimal result (look at the forty long-listed examples … none of them are any good) that then will become fixed in stone for the next several generations. So the right thing to do is to resist change now and wait for a better moment (or leadership) that will produce a superior outcome.”

    You may not share that analysis, but under it the “reasons” Key has for wanting to change could very well alter a person’s willingness to support change.

    (I should make it clear that I’m not saying that this is what I think, rather I’m trying to show why motives (that then bleed into process) may well matter.)

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — August 15, 2015 @ 8:16 pm

  48. bringing up the various procedural quibbles we have seen here.

    I don’t know if that’s a response to my post, but voting is definitely not a “procedural quibble”.

    The flag matters because of what it represents, and it’s supposed to represent a democracy. It’s supposed to be about us.

    So we should ask ourselves a few basic questions, like – how do we best ask the people (answer: not by post), and how do we best select possible flags (answer: not by the PM’s cronies), and how do we consider it alongside other matters (republic, Treaty etc).

    Talking about the flag while ignoring constitutional/political matters is exactly the kind of “logo” nonsense that Danyl has outlined. Ultimately, the real divide is about “brand” (the corporate mindset) versus civics (our government, our flag, our democratic institutions).

    No, it isn’t just pro-/anti-Key. And Labour miss the point too, going on about the cost. It’s the least of the concerns.

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — August 15, 2015 @ 9:15 pm

  49. Are there any constraints, besides political, on a government’s ability to legislate to ignore a binding referendum after it’s happened?

    Depends on the binding referendum. This one? No. One to increase the term of Parliament to four years? Yes.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — August 15, 2015 @ 9:20 pm

  50. “At the very least I’d expect the second referendum (switch or keep) to have a high turnout,”

    And for that matter, if the second one has a good turnout then I’d not be completely surprised if the first one does to. But mostly because the way in which the referendums at being run creates a nice incentive, for everyone planning to vote to keep the current flag, to try and sabotage the first referendum by voting for whichever option seems least likely to be wanted by the populace as a whole.

    Comment by izogi — August 15, 2015 @ 10:59 pm

  51. @sammy: I was more thinking of the “there’s no designer on the panel” quibbles. And you can’t really say that the panel is just a bunch of Key’s cronies – yes, some of them have links to the National party, but many don’t, and some of them could even be considered oppositional figures (e.g. Peter Chin was very close to Labour, Hana O’Regan has been a major critic of the government on several occasions).

    And as I said above, it is possible to talk about the flag while taking into account constitutional/political matters, without necessarily opening the entire constitution up for change alongside the flag. Many of the panel members have a deep background in constitutional law. And then conversely, you have people who claim that the process must be apolitical and attack Key for “politicising” it, like Sanc. Basically, when you have an issue that is so aspirationally broad but has such shallow concrete roots, there is really no way to run the process that will seem intuitively “correct” – and that’s before you get people who believe that whichever way Key is doing it must be wrong*

    *I don’t want to look like I’m claiming this is a Labour-only thing, mind – I can only imagine the shitshow that would have resulted from the right if Clark had initiated a similar process.

    Ultimately the whole flag issue is meaningless. What our flag depicts makes no concrete difference to anybody’s life. Key probably doesn’t intend it to be a corporate branding exercise, but that’s all it can ever be – a shallow symbol to represent an ultimately meaningless conglomeration of people, who are more divided than united, but who need to think of themselves as united for the purposes of vested interests.

    Comment by Ortvin Sarapuu — August 15, 2015 @ 11:29 pm

  52. “Ultimately the whole flag issue is meaningless. What our flag depicts makes no concrete difference to anybody’s life. Key probably doesn’t intend it to be a corporate branding exercise, but that’s all it can ever be – a shallow symbol to represent an ultimately meaningless conglomeration of people, who are more divided than united, but who need to think of themselves as united for the purposes of vested interests.”

    I think you are half-right here. The flag is important, both historically and for what it is considered to represent. However, the second part of your statement could accurately describe practically every participant in the ‘debate’ whether they agree with changing the design, or not. We are all, one way or another, urinating on the present flag. And I think that’s just wrong.

    Comment by Lee Clark — August 16, 2015 @ 7:10 am

  53. So the right thing to do is to resist change now and wait for a better moment (or leadership) that will produce a superior outcome.

    Cynically though, doesn’t that in practice – looking at who is opposing the present process – just amount to “the political tribe I belong to”?

    And even if one weren’t quite so cynical it still leaves open the question of who decides when that better moment has arrived. There’s always going to be disagreement – just like there is disagreement now. Maybe there will never be a better moment or at least no agreement as to when that is. People being contrary.

    My other view is even if one believes this is the wrong moment not voting, not parting in the debate for change will not alter the outcome. All it could possibly do is cede the framing to Key.

    I don’t see why if one is a cynical as Danyl one can’t get out on the streets and proclaim the change represents what ever higher principles one wants to advocate.

    At least that way you may have a chance of convincing others that that is why the flag is being changed. And if that’s what people think ie move towards a republic, addressing colonial wrongs efc then that becomes why the flag was changed.

    Comment by NeilM — August 16, 2015 @ 9:49 am

  54. @NeilM,

    Because participating in a process that you had no hand in designing, run by people whose judgment you don’t trust or respect, and that you think is intended to produce a predetermined outcome is likely to be a complete waste of your time?

    Also, of course judgments on the desirability of change often are based on who is proposing it. That’s why National opposed the introduction of the Bill of Rights Act in 1990, as well as the new Supreme Court in 2004, as well as getting rid of knighthoods and damehoods, etc, etc, etc. Plus ca change … .

    Comment by Flashing Light — August 16, 2015 @ 11:17 am

  55. How is “it’s really stupid that there is no one with a design/visual arts background on a panel charged with making design/visual arts decisions” a quibble? To the people who are making it, it seems a pretty key critique…

    Comment by Keir Leslie — August 16, 2015 @ 11:53 am

  56. The idea that republicans could co-opt this to make it a step on the road seems pretty fanciful. It’s explicitly not about republicanism, from the PM on down the official process has made that clear. Beyond that, it’s happening at a time when we re-instituted knghhoods, sent increasing numbers of royal tour invites, deployed troops to a war based on, as far as anyone can tell, a sign of our club membership.

    This isn’t exactly a time of NZ shouting our growing independence to the world. Instead, the PM’s case is that the old flag is no longer fit for purpose, and needs a revamp in order to make our brand more distinctive within the club. The Cnada example is the only one that gets used. Is Canada a republic? Nope it is not.

    So how, in the face of all that, would republicans co-opt this?

    The task for republicans remains the same as it ever was. Make the case for republicanism to enough people to get it done. Doing that by changing the outward symbols won’t work and will probably only serve to weaken their case. ‘hy bother thinking about becoming a republic if we have already got a flag that pretends we are one? ‘Didn’t we already change the flag to symbolise the changes becoming a republic would symbolise?’ etc.

    The current flag, merits of branding aside, accurately represents our constitutional framework. The desire for many to get rid of the jack is fair enough, but absent getting rid of what the jack represents what is the point? This is not a rhetorical question. If you want to get rid of the jack, but the queen, why do you want to get rid of the jack?* Would it make our flag a lie, in some sense? Republicans may well think so.

    * The monarchist response here is usually that the Queen is not just the monarch of the UK, but also our monarch. The idea is that the jack is outdated because the is our monarch reigns here quite separately from reigning in the UK. This is nonsense on stilts. We just had a big rigmarole about changing the succession that had to be approved by all the various places the monarch reigns over, they are intrinsically linked. We could test it by uniltaerally changing the NZ rules for succession I suppose. I’d be up for that debate, just to see how it would play out.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — August 16, 2015 @ 12:15 pm

  57. The idea that republicans could co-opt this to make it a step on the road seems pretty fanciful. It’s explicitly not about republicanism,

    For me it is linked to republicanism because I choose to make that connection. There are perhaps quite a few people with a similar position. In conversations about this I say I support changing the flag because of (various reasons).

    I’m not going to wait about for any future set preconditions to make that argument.

    Comment by NeilM — August 16, 2015 @ 12:31 pm

  58. “:For me it is linked to republicanism because I choose to make that connection.”

    Good for you. Solipsism is one route I guess. Kind of like supporting wars on the basis that there is *a* war you could support, so choosing to believe that the actual war you are being asked to support is *that* war.

    Have you ever stopped to wonder if the beliefs of the people actually doing the things you support affect the outcomes more than your reasons?

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — August 16, 2015 @ 12:51 pm

  59. I don’t really have huge emotional investment in changing or not changing the flag. Partly I think because I have reservations about nationalism.

    But it’s a product of a colonial past and its going to change at some point.

    I do think though the entire discourse of national identity, independence and sovereign is stuck in a world view based in the 50s to 70s, dominated as it was by the post colonial independence movements.

    The world has since changed dramatically. What do we mean by sovereignty in a world of climate change, mass immigration, internet trade. Where countries are trying to build connections rather than set up nationalist walls.

    When some one on the centre left like Andrew Little complains the TPPA will damage our sovereignty I’m disappointed at the shallowness of the discourse.

    Comment by NeilM — August 16, 2015 @ 2:10 pm

  60. Reblogged this on strathmorepark.

    Comment by Strathmore Park — August 16, 2015 @ 2:17 pm

  61. So if you don’t like small-n nationalism, what do you think we are heading towards? Can you articulate it, given your disappointment with everyone else’s discourse?

    Where does democracy fit in with a post-national world, do you think? How can it be expressed, or ought it?

    I’m also a bit confused by the idea that the flag will change at some point simply because it’s a product of our colonial past, while saying that post-colonial musings are also an anachronism whose time has past. I mean, wtf? How is this less shallow than whatever it is you find shallow about Little?

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — August 16, 2015 @ 2:53 pm

  62. Apparently if you dig deeply enough you’ll find Little’s really shallow.

    Comment by Joe W — August 16, 2015 @ 3:09 pm

  63. Because participating in a process that you had no hand in designing, run by people whose judgment you don’t trust or respect, and that you think is intended to produce a predetermined outcome is likely to be a complete waste of your time?

    This executive summary of the flag referendum should accompany every media story on it.

    But it’s a product of a colonial past and its going to change at some point.

    And shouldn’t that point be the point at which we have achieved some genuine constitutional break with that colonial past? Otherwise, it’s just a feel-good exercise for Whitey to pretend we’ve broken with that colonial past, without having to endure any of the unpleasantness that would be involved with making a real, actual break with that past. I can picture National MPs in general and Key in particular being enthusiastic about the propaganda rewards to be reaped from such a cynical exercise, but why would the rest of us collaborate?

    Comment by Psycho Milt — August 16, 2015 @ 6:43 pm

  64. I wonder what information an request to ministers on the economic value of a new flag would yield.

    Comment by Bertie — August 16, 2015 @ 11:18 pm

  65. er, *a request for advice to ministers on the economic value of a new flag

    Comment by Bertie — August 16, 2015 @ 11:19 pm

  66. I think that one of the more interesting effects of colonialism is how is manages to fabricate identity as if it is an homogenous, shared notion. Another aspect is tthe undeserved shame that the descendents of original colonisers feel for being visible reminders of it. Shaking off our colonial past will require much more than a rebranding exercise. However, to suggest that fear of unpleasantness would be a deterrent to such a process is open to challenge. If the the blogosphere is any indicator, there are people out there for whom engaging in ‘unpleasantness’ is as irresistible as drinking a virgin’s blood is to a vampire.
    Worst-case scenario, I think is that this discussion, abut a flag will serve as a useful historical barometer of where the NZ people ‘are’ in 2015. And, if a flag change were to occur in 2018 – how far we have come, as a nation, since 1918.

    Comment by Lee Clark — August 17, 2015 @ 6:59 am

  67. John Key’s pro-flag change video is full of the most outrageously untrue crap.

    See it here with the blatant untruths exposed.

    http://truebluenz.com/2015/08/14/flag-change-the-video-that-exposes-john-key-as-a-watery-eyed-charlatan/

    Comment by Redbaiter — August 17, 2015 @ 11:33 am

  68. Vote for the Koru. Do not spoil your ballot paper. Nobody is going to vote for the Koru in the second round. They will have to go away, lick their wounds and come up with better offerings next time. Take part in the ballot, if you fail to pariticpate you are failing democracy. !!

    Comment by Rick Taar — September 3, 2015 @ 9:00 am

  69. Yes. Vote for the koru 1st, and the two dentical options 3rd and 4th. The referendum voting system screws everything up since there are two identical flags. What a mess! Then just vote no change in the vote next year.

    Comment by WindyWellngton — September 11, 2015 @ 2:34 pm

  70. That’s what you get when you choose successful business people to run a country. Unfortunately a country is not a business. The job of being a govt requires a different skill set to running a business.

    We are citizens not shareholders (or employees).

    We should have a flag that symbolises the values, aspirations and meta-story of real people. Not a logo that symbolises a product.

    Key sees our country as a product and that is why these flag options are so shallow and meaningless, and ultimately will fail to gain widestream support.

    Comment by Myles T — September 13, 2015 @ 1:29 am


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