The flag and democracy

The results of the first flag referendum has really thrown up some bizarre perspectives on democracy in New Zealand.

Like the person I jostled with on a mutual friend’s Facebook page who said he “feared” people voting to keep the current flag because they didn’t like the blue Lockwood design. Apparently this would be ignoring the wishes of the majority who had voted for it.

Or this – somewhat joking, I guess? – editorial on Stuff which argues that it’s just time for a change therefore you must support change because the only reason you could possibly vote to keep our current flag is because you’re childish (or an old RSA fogey, or Winston Peters, which I suppose are kind of the same thing.)

Now, I’m not particularly thrilled by our current flag. I absolutely agree that it’s time to move past the symbols of our colonial masters, as part of a serious process of acknowledging that that colonial past is still very much with us.

But it’s a bit bloody cheeky for this government, who actively reintroduced archaic rubbish like knighthoods (and gave one to Peter Talley) to wax lyrical about our need to rebrand as a modern global nation by scrapping the union jack. It’s a bit cheeky for anyone who isn’t actively advocating republicanism to say “getting rid of the Union Jack is the most important thing” when the Queen will still be on our currency, the Governor-General will still rubber-stamp all our laws in her name, and probably most importantly, we’ll still be pointlessly sending our soldiers into overseas conflicts because the UK told us it was a family event and it wouldn’t be the same if we weren’t dying there too.

I think the blue Lockwood flag is ugly. I think it looks horribly corporate, horribly 90s, and just boringly obvious. It’s not a surprise it won this referendum because it’s comfortably bland. Even if Helen Clark had overseen this process, I would not vote for this flag.

Because we only get one shot at this. If we change flags now, we probably won’t have another chance in my lifetime. If we keep the current flag, for now, there’s an opportunity for a different government to run a proper discussion about our identity as a nation – not one orchestrated by a Prime Minister desperate for ~a legacy~ in cahoots with a panel stacked with stuffy old white men, ~business gurus~ and reality TV producers.

New Zealand could easily become a republic in the next 10, 20 years. I can wait.

And here’s the ultimate irony. There’s a strong meme going around that Red Peak fans are being bitter and nasty and childish about their #1 pick not being the winner. But the only nastiness I’m seeing is from people who like the blue Lockwood (or like the idea of John Key getting that legacy), sneering that we must accept the ~wishes of the majority~ … by not exercising our votes in the second referendum – not in a way they don’t want.

Democracy, chaps. It works both ways.

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