The Dim-Post

March 24, 2016

Political positioning and the flag debate

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 6:08 pm

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.

44 Comments »

  1. Personally, my vote was based on the poor process and incompetent panel (incompetent because not trained in design). The PM’s predetermined wishes were very clear in both the process and the makeup of the panel. The outome will be based on non-political leanings or tendencies.

    Comment by Spitfire — March 24, 2016 @ 6:13 pm

  2. Spitfire says: “Personally, my vote was based on the poor process and incompetent”

    Isn’t that just a fancy way of saying you didn’t like the design they came up with? That is, has they accidentally come up with a design you liked, I assume you would have voted for it?

    Comment by Matthew Hooton — March 24, 2016 @ 6:18 pm

  3. I think you are correct but thanks to the Lefts dog in the manger attitude we are stuck with the Union Jack on the flag and I doubt that any politician will be in a hurry to change it

    Comment by Ray — March 24, 2016 @ 6:43 pm

  4. Of course I don’t know the result yet but a tiny bit of me would love for the alternative to win
    The scrambling of rewrites would be deafening

    Comment by Ray — March 24, 2016 @ 6:45 pm

  5. Hang on a minute. What about all that stuff from the Left about how they *weren’t* voting status quo because John Key wants to change the flag, but because the Lockwood design is a bad one and really hurts their eyes ?

    Comment by robhosking — March 24, 2016 @ 6:48 pm

  6. Has. Yes indeed, Ray @ 6.45pm.
    I went all in on status quo on Metro 10 days ago.
    http://www.metromag.co.nz/current-affairs/flag-it/

    Comment by Matthew Hooton — March 24, 2016 @ 6:49 pm

  7. As I commented on one of the numerous previous threads, John Key eventually got around to telling us what we suspected: that a vote to change WAS the reactionary option. He said “reject it now, and you can’t have a flag until you have a republic, and you can’t have a republic, so there”. (I paraphrase)

    Fed up with this “it’s just coz you just don’t like Key” BS. He wanted us to give a seal of approval to his bringing back knighthoods, kissing up to the royals and generally REINFORCING (yep, I’m shouting) our colonial deference. It’s just another form of corporate greenwash. Not everyone was fooled, and the more he pouted, the less we were convinced.

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — March 24, 2016 @ 7:24 pm

  8. I would be surprised if more than 5% of voters choose their vote based on John Key.

    There was enough in there with bad process, cost, bad design and conservatism to doom the change process.

    I also think that voting one way or another based on your feelings about John Key is pretty stupid, but people are allowed to do that in a democracy.

    Comment by thomasbeagle — March 24, 2016 @ 7:26 pm

  9. We will need a new flag when we become a republic.
    Keeping the current flag with the union jack reminds us that the British monarch is still our head of state.
    Hopefully sometime in the next decade or 2 the majority of NZers will realise how ridiculous that is and we will change the system so NZ citizens will get to vote for our country’s head of state (and have another go at choosing a new flag)

    Comment by Corokia — March 24, 2016 @ 7:48 pm

  10. And we’re done.

    http://www.electionresults.govt.nz/2016_flag_referendum2/

    Looks like the areas voting for change were solid National electorates.

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — March 24, 2016 @ 8:38 pm

  11. Personally, I couldn’t care less if a change happened on John Key’s watch. I wanted a change, I think it’s time and it would have been good for New Zealand. But I wouldn’t vote for any odd design just for the sake of change.

    When the Lockwood flag won, my first instinct was to vote for it in the second referendum. But I just couldn’t get myself to like it, o I had to vote to keep the current flag. The Lockwood flag is just way too bad a design for a flag. There are a number of designs in the 10000 submitted, even in the final 40, which may not have been my favourite, but I would have happily voted for.

    Too bad, missed opportunity.

    DPFs “analysis” is more spin and the typical political blame-game. Too predictable to be surprising: “It’s all Labours fault, my hero, John Key, did everything right”

    Comment by eszett — March 24, 2016 @ 8:42 pm

  12. Conservative – ie National – voters were always likely to vote for the status quo

    More people voted to keep the current flag than voted National at the last election. That suggests that some National voters voted for the status quo.

    Comment by Ross — March 24, 2016 @ 8:47 pm

  13. thanks to the Lefts dog in the manger attitude

    That’s a rather old fashioned expression. You must have voted for the Union Jack…

    Comment by Ross — March 24, 2016 @ 8:50 pm

  14. I would be surprised if more than 5% of voters choose their vote based on John Key.

    Most people in real life I talked with about the issue had fairly straight foward and sensible reasons fur voting either way.

    Middle class liberals on the internet – that was an interesting object less in dressing up partisan politics with some rather curious ideas about experts and design.

    Comment by NeilM — March 24, 2016 @ 8:58 pm

  15. No Ross, I voted for change

    Comment by Ray — March 24, 2016 @ 9:34 pm

  16. Thomas Beagle says: “I would be surprised if more than 5% of voters choose their vote based on John Key.”

    Really? Only 1 in 20? Because if it was 1 in 17 people (6%) who decided not to vote for change because of John Key, then they were the decisive voters.

    I think the minority KDS FJK crowd were the ones who ultimately decided it.

    Comment by Matthew Hooton — March 24, 2016 @ 9:38 pm

  17. @Mathew H

    I think the most important deciding demographic were maori.

    Comment by NeilM — March 24, 2016 @ 9:43 pm

  18. I love it! Hooton has found some way to blame it on crazy leftists! A severe case of Key Bromance Syndrome!

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 24, 2016 @ 9:55 pm

  19. This is a cynical and superficial interpretation of what motivated voters. It’s also really incredibly arrogant, especially for a guy who claims to think it’s “elitist” to have expert input on the flag design process. Who says that the Union Jack is a “colonial relic”? Well Danyl does, so clearly that’s all it is. Other interpretations are redundant. Take that, free play of empty signifiers!

    I think the political debate around the two flag designs was much more interesting than this simplistic little narrative suggests. My impression is that people on the right largely quite like the old flag, and people on the left absolutely hate the new one. To a certain point this is just an aesthetic judgement: personally I think they’re both pretty fucking ugly. More than that, though, it’s about what people on both sides interpret the flag to mean in the context of our political landscape. When I talked to people on the left about their response to the Lockwood design, they didn’t generally tell me that they were going to vote against it to get one over on John Key. Instead they waxed lyrical about how awful the new flag design is: it looks like a brand, a trademark, it’s a commercial logo for the private enterprise that is New Zealand PLC, it’s crass, it’s reductive, it’s cheap, it’s bereft of cultural and historical knowledge, it’s stupid, it’s vacuous, it’s superficial, it hates expert opinions, it’s anti-intellectual. Not coincidentally, a lot of these criticisms coincide with their judgements about the character of the Prime Minister and his political programme (he’s selling the country, he’s anti-intellectual, he’s vacuous, etc.). Perhaps there’s a bit of projection going on here – in which case the PM is partly to blame for identifying himself so strongly with the cause of the silver fern design. Or perhaps the flag really does convey some of those culturally-embedded meanings that appeal more to voters in Tamaki than in Rongotai. Either way, I think there’s something much more interesting going on here than just a politically-calculating decision to bash John Key with the Union Jack.

    The other thing, of course, is that a lot of voters on the left of centre are quite conservative. The idea that left=liberal and right=conservative is entirely wrong – the poor are significantly more likely to be socially conservative than the rich. And of course left-wing voters may quite reasonably be attached to the Union Jack for reasons of history, for reasons of cultural or religious affinity, or for reasons of tradition. Not every Labour or Green voter is an eager little postcolonialist.

    Comment by Higgs Boatswain — March 24, 2016 @ 9:58 pm

  20. The emerging facts don’t support the spin about the left ultimately deciding the result. Look at Helensville, John Key’s own electorate. A massive 72.6 percent turnout, with 56.6 percent supporting the current flag – same as the overall proportion. If that’s simply an anti-Key vote, he (and National) have a real problem.

    Comment by Kay — March 24, 2016 @ 10:01 pm

  21. Really, why should voters be “blamed” for why they might have chosen to vote a certain way, if indeed they actually did? (That’s a big IF.)

    The process doesn’t require any voter to justify to anyone else why they make their choice. It only asks for the choice of preferred result. It certainly doesn’t demand that everyone’s choice follow a particular line of reasoning which happens to lead to someone else’s preference.

    Comment by izogi — March 24, 2016 @ 10:18 pm

  22. @17. NeilM: “I think the most important deciding demographic were maori.” Look at the numbers. Turnout across the seven Maori electorates was only 48 percent. Those in Maori electorates who voted made up only 5 percent of the total who voted. Yes, they overwhelmingly voted for the current flag (75 percent), but they were not a big enough proportion of all voters to have had a deciding effect on the outcome.

    Comment by Kay — March 24, 2016 @ 10:30 pm

  23. Tonight was rather bizarre, in keeping with the whole “debate” for months.

    In a real referendum, results night is a big event. There will be live TV coverage of the two camps. There will be familiar faces, the spokespeople from the two campaigns, the “Yes To Ponies” and “No Pony, No Way” camps will have a big gathering with cheers and groans as the results come in. (Think MMP, 1993, Peter Shirtcliffe vs Rod Donald).

    The rooms will be festooned with balloons and bunting in the campaign colours, proclaiming their passionate support for the cause. There will have been rallies and donation drives and stunts and all the paraphernalia of a robust, engaging battle for votes.

    And yet … none of this happened in Our Great Flag Debate. It’s eerie. It was a town hall meeting in a Potemkin village. It was … empty. New Zealanders voted (in pretty good numbers), we just didn’t do much else. The end of the campaign was as well-attended as the public meetings that kicked it off.

    Contrast the crowds for Australia’s republic vote, Scotland’s independence vote, etc. with our own.

    Why the difference? Ask John key. It was the referendum he wanted – the Seinfeld referendum, about nothing. And nothing is what he got.

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — March 24, 2016 @ 10:58 pm

  24. http://m.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11611434

    Gosh, the corpse of John Key’s legacy project is still warm and already we’ve had Farrar and Audrey Young – two of the most reliable Nattional party cheerleaders, I guess – moving in to try and win the defeat. And of course that big tit Hooters will be everywhere, mark my worrds.

    Guess what Hooters, Audrey, DPF – You lost LOSERS, yup, you were beaten, Thrashed like a schoolboy caught in the rectors orchard. Now stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

    This loss strikes at the heart of NZ reactionary self-worth. As Sammy 3.0 astutely observes above in comment 7, the reactionarry option was to support the flag change, because that is whaat the self-stylised masters of universe white men who love John Key want. That ggroup just got a salutary reminder that their power still has (some) limits. And they won’t like it. Not one little bit. They are winners who win. But they have just lost. Lost, lost, lost, lost. LOSERS. Bet it hurts. And defeated by brown voters, and by young people! Now, if we had a property qualification to vote – like any right thinking country – they would have WON!

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 24, 2016 @ 11:01 pm

  25. DPF analysis is his usual lies and distortion

    “Labour created a nonsense campaign that there should be a yes/no vote before you know what the alternate design is”

    “It is bonkers because it is impossible for people to vote to change the flag without knowing the alternative.”

    Is this guy so stupid that we dont know that was exactly the setup for MMP referendums ?

    First question was Yes /No , 2nd question was choose one from 4 different systems.

    Talk about labour derangement syndrome!

    Comment by ghostwhowalksnz — March 24, 2016 @ 11:08 pm

  26. Look at the numbers. Turnout across the seven Maori electorates was only 48 percent. Those in Maori electorates who voted made up only 5 percent of the total who voted. Yes, they overwhelmingly voted for the current flag (75 percent), but they were not a big enough proportion of all voters to have had a deciding effect on the outcome.

    But I think the low turn out and large vote against of those he did vote does suggest a major group were not convinced about change – and a much more significant group than white liberals on Twitter and their Red Peak thing.

    Comment by NeilM — March 24, 2016 @ 11:40 pm

  27. “And yet … none of this happened in Our Great Flag Debate. It’s eerie.”

    Because the outcome was never really in doubt. All of the instances you listed involved at least a modicum of uncertainty about the results. Nobody was on a knife’s edge wondering which way the flag referendum was going to go.

    As for DPF, it’s amusing how he just pulls a bunch of figures out of his arse about how the members of certain parties should vote and then claims that the fact that people didn’t vote based on his back-of-the-envelope (to be charitable) calculations is a sign of some kind of perversion of the political process.

    Comment by Ortvin Sarapuu — March 24, 2016 @ 11:42 pm

  28. Josie Pagani on twitter: “Trump would have voted for the existing flag”

    Yes, really.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 24, 2016 @ 11:51 pm

  29. Because the outcome was never really in doubt. All of the instances you listed involved at least a modicum of uncertainty about the results.

    No, that’s not it. I didn’t list every referendum in a democracy, but I might as well have. Many with bigger margins than ours tonight. Ireland’s marriage equality, for example.

    The point is not the likelihood of the result, but the meaning of the result. There were no campaigns organized (the celeb ads for change just highlight the point, they were top-down, not bottom-up), no public engagement on the ground, no signing up to wear T-shirts on the streets and spread the word, no billboards sprouting, no set piece TV debates – I could go on and on. There were simply none of the things that you see in democratic campaigns.

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — March 24, 2016 @ 11:59 pm

  30. no public engagement on the ground,

    But there was. Everyone I know had thought about the issue. At work this evening most people were waiting expectantly for the results.

    And all in a most civilised manner without all you’ve got shit taste type arguments from the intellectuals on the internet.

    Comment by NeilM — March 25, 2016 @ 12:09 am

  31. “No, that’s not it. I didn’t list every referendum in a democracy, but I might as well have.”

    Perhaps there’s some selection bias? Is it possible that referendums happen in other countries all the time and the voters don’t care, but the fact of that apathy means it passes without notice in the rest of the world, which leads to mistaken beliefs about how excitable referendums make people generally?

    I mean there was a referendum on the electoral process in Bulgaria last year that excited very little comment or enthusiasm within Bulgaria and even less outside. Another in Denmark, and six in Switzerland. (Although perhaps those come under your CIR qualifier). But I think you see my point.

    Comment by Ortvin Sarapuu — March 25, 2016 @ 12:14 am

  32. @ Danyl “Conservative – ie National – voters were always likely to vote for the status quo because, well, they’re conservative”

    Be careful of caricatures. I’d say the current National constituency is fairly evenly divided between social conservatives and social liberals (the latter being particularly prominent among those former Labour voters who swung National’s way in 2008). All of the polls in the run-up to the Referendum suggested National voters were pretty evenly split on the flag issue. And the fact that the result was closer than many of the polls were predicting, in turn, raises the possibility that a majority of Nats (albeit, no doubt, a very small one) may well have ended up going for the Lockwood alternative.

    @ Danyl “People on the Left just made individual rational decisions to vote against Key because they don’t like him much”

    Or, in my case (and, no doubt, the case of many other Lefty types with at least a modicum of design sense), voting to retain the current flag was purely a corollary of the Lockwood alternative being a bit of dog’s dinner, more than a little unsightly, if not complete and utter Crapola. The fact that the result might just humiliate Johnathan Wedgewood Key and brand him as a bit of an old Loser was just the icing on the cake – a very, very, very, very pleasant bonus.

    Comment by swordfish — March 25, 2016 @ 12:46 am

  33. no doubt, the case of many other Lefty types with at least a modicum of design sense

    I find this attitude to be the most disturbing revelation of this debate.

    I expect we’ll see even more of it if we have a debate on becoming a republic. To those with a modicum sense of what it means to be independent…you will agree with me. To those with a modicum sense of what identity is… you will agree with me.

    And no doubt there’ll be Experts to lecture is all on what it means to be a Republic given we can’t be trusted to make these sorts of decisions in our uneducated way.

    And that’s not even taking into account how the Left tears itself to pieces over identity.

    Comment by NeilM — March 25, 2016 @ 1:13 am

  34. Mathew Hooton says “I think the minority KDS FJK crowd were the ones who ultimately decided it.”

    Really Mathew?? For a start, minorities don’t decide anything in a democracy. Democracy means majority rules in case you weren’t aware of that. So the “ones who ultimately decided it” were the majority, who voted for the current flag.

    You should try to stop spinning bollocks every waking hour and maybe try thinking every now and then.

    Comment by Mike S — March 25, 2016 @ 2:33 am

  35. Yes, it is pretty weird and stupid that ‘the left’ decided to vote to keep a colonial relic on our flag…

    It’s not. For a country with Elizabeth, by the Grace of God etc etc as its head of state, in what sense can the Union Jack be considered a “colonial relic?” The current flag accurately reflects our country, the proposed one lies about it. There’s nothing about the left that makes them more likely to indulge in self-delusion than other people.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — March 25, 2016 @ 7:28 am

  36. @Matthew Hooten (16)

    I think the minority KDS FJK crowd were the ones who ultimately decided it.

    But as we can see, lots and lots of National voters went against their default instincts and voted for change either because they wanted to support John Key or because they wanted to stick it to The Left (see, e.g. Liam Hehir etc). So if the Lockwood design had won, wouldn’t it have been because of this crowd. Do we have a suitable pejorative for them – the Key Beatification Syndrome/I’d Fuck John Key crowd, perhaps?

    So, you know, partisan politics works both ways. It’s just in this case, on this issue, the left were better at it.

    Comment by Flashing Light — March 25, 2016 @ 8:27 am

  37. If John Key retires to Hawaii to lick his wounds, he’ll see a flag that will presumably give him the screaming shits.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Hawaii

    Comment by Ross — March 25, 2016 @ 8:31 am

  38. I personally think interest flagged right from the start.

    Comment by jamesnorcliffe — March 25, 2016 @ 8:37 am

  39. The overwhelming sense I’m getting is one of mild embarrassment all over the place.

    I think LIttle and Turei are entitled to crow about Key’s vanity project, even though both parties apparently supported a flag change prior to that because I guess they really wanted to impress the public with a sense of their own deep-seated senses of humility.

    Personally I found it a fascinating insight into the tribal and short-term thinking of a nation which is essentially schooled in rule by division – itself a post-colonial legacy. So in a way, the few who voted to retain a colonial emblem for whatever motivation have merely showed the world that they are still colonised. They did what they were supposed to do But so what? the UK as a colonial nation was a pretty good one. Much better than France. Or Portugal, or Germany or Spain and stuff.

    Meanwhile, for whatever reason, certain people have ensured that we are ‘stuck’ with the Union Flag. I think that’s great, because The United Kingdom is brilliant, so we should all be proud of ourselves. Personally the most interesting things to emerge from this discussion was how the Union Flag emerged from the Waitangi Process, and the use of the ensign came later. There was only one recorded example of anything like our present design ‘flying’ over Gallipoli.

    If the referendum had come back for a change, and Key was smart, he would have thrown the design process open, but I think this whole thing has shown that he wasn’t as smart as he thought he was.

    Comment by leeharmanclark — March 25, 2016 @ 8:41 am

  40. “If John Key retires to Hawaii to lick his wounds… Doesnt seem to be any flights to Hawaii leaving late last night.

    He could be off to ME and Iraq and hush hush trip to a ‘hell hole’ to burnish his image , some might say.

    Comment by dukeofurl — March 25, 2016 @ 10:26 am

  41. ‘We will need a new flag when we become a republic.” False connection. Plenty of example in the commonwealth of that not happening. South Africa became a republic in the 1960s but did not change flag ( that came with majority rule). Ireland became a dominion in 1922 and got a new flag but didnt become a republic till 1948 and didnt change flag then
    . Canada changed flag but stayed a dominion.
    European countries like Italy were a monarchy but only removed royal coat of arms from flag when it became a republic, stayed with the same design. Austria uses both plain and coat of arms versions of flag.

    Comment by dukeofurl — March 25, 2016 @ 10:44 am

  42. “I think LIttle and Turei are entitled to crow about Key’s vanity project”

    I think when the Greens agreed to support the referendum in exchange for Red Peak being included they lost the right to crow.

    Comment by Ortvin Sarapuu — March 25, 2016 @ 10:55 am

  43. “So the “ones who ultimately decided it” were the majority, who voted for the current flag.”

    Exactly. Nobody owes anyone else their vote to get the “correct” result according to that other person’s line of reasoning. To blame the result on a small number of people who voted as they wanted to for their own reasons is arrogant to the extreme.

    Comment by izogi — March 25, 2016 @ 11:07 am

  44. I for one am pleased about the result. I agree with criticisms about the process and the designs selected and repudiate the witless sneering about the ‘left’ and their apparent nose-cutting desire to thwart Key.
    It’s ok to respect the opinions of those expert in, say, vexillology in much the same way as we are guided by art historians of museum curators in the development of our cultural capital. That said, Te Papa isn’t entirely to my taste.
    Attitudes like Neilm’s ‘you’ve got shit taste type arguments from the intellectuals on the internet’ are demeaning and disrespectful about very important debate, and very unhelpful. As unhelpful, perhaps, as the hugger-mugger process by which the PM set of this whole sorry episode.

    Comment by paritutu — March 25, 2016 @ 11:41 am


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