DPF has a post up about the political dynamics of the flag debate. I would put it all slightly differently. Conservative – ie National – voters were always likely to vote for the status quo because, well, they’re conservative. So if flag change was going to happen it needed overwhelming support from the left. Enter right-wing leader John Key, who made his preference and the fact that he considered the change to be part of his legacy very clear. And the outcome of that looks to be pretty much what’d you’d expect. Conservative voters voting for the status quo and left-wing voters thwarting Key.
Yes, it is pretty weird and stupid that ‘the left’ decided to vote to keep a colonial relic on our flag, but it makes sense in terms of transactional politics: the flag change is low value to them but high value to Key, so why give it to him?
DPF blames left-wing politicians for this situation. But if super-popular John Key with his great mates Richie et al couldn’t persuade his supporters to change – and it’s interesting, I think, that he couldn’t – then the likelihood of the left’s rabble of not-very popular MPs convincing anyone to switch positions on this issue seems low. People on the left just made individual rational decisions to vote against Key because they don’t like him much, and he made a strategic blunder and gave them the opportunity to defy him.