The National Party’s New Flag

Gareth MorganTreaty

43% of those who voted in the flag referendum supported the PM’s choice, 56% opposed. The electorates with the strongest support for his fern was Tamaki and Selwyn at 52%. These two electorates were also the highest polling National electorates in the 2014 election. In what was billed by the PM as a “conscience vote” 86% of National Party MPs fell in line behind their leader’s preference. Who says the flag exercise wasn’t politicised?

The Lockwood flag really is the new National Party flag, that’s the only role for it now. As the picture above shows it was always a party flag.

The PM has acknowledged what for him, the change in flag was about. He wanted the quintessential symbol of New Zealand on the flag – remember he started just wanting the All Blacks flag. The reason he argues, is recognition, branding. That’s it, that’s the depth of his thinking on the national flag. His, is a corporate world, nothing more.

Mr Key’s rationale was always disappointingly shallow. Most national flags – including our current one – are much more than just a mascot, logo, or symbol. Many countries have both flags and symbols – each fulfilling very different purposes, promoted on different occasions. But as Mr Key has said, in essence the alternative flag process simply replaced the Union Jack with the Silver Fern – there was no more to it really.

But that was precisely the problem. Apart from the Regressives who will always argue that it’s never appropriate to change a flag, no matter what messages the incumbent conveys, most people will agree that the Union Jack is not an appropriate representation of contemporary New Zealand – or even of New Zealand as it is constitutionally formed. A defaced British naval ensign does not tell the story of this multicultural nation that uniquely has a bicultural founding document. Our current flag is resoundingly deficient in that respect. It needs to tell a story that does reflect who we are, not who we are not – and we are not a British colony.

It’s against this backdrop then that the New Zealand Constitution and the various forms of representation of those principles and values – anthem, flag, country name – are really in need of review. Certainly the Constitution is pretty much unknown to most people. Our lack of a written constitution is responsible for that confusion. While it can be extracted from the set of legislation that New Zealand has built up over the years, understanding that is privy to the world of constitutional lawyers – hardly a group that provide a common understanding.

All this makes the recent ‘pick a flag’ competition rather facile, and the Prime Minster’s preference for a silver fern more than a little lightweight as national guidance. Most who appreciate the evolution of New Zealand’s society, would see the flag as much more than a logo or brand. That view has been resoundingly expressed now.

It is appropriate that the suggested alternative has been defeated as inadequate. Apart from its violation of almost all the visual requirements of vexillology, the lack of its ability to convey any story about what it represents was its greatest handicap. The silver fern is a successful and enduring symbol but it tells us nothing about New Zealand. That is why Progressives aligned with the Regressives to swamp the vote of the “Mediocres” who see a national flag as no more than trade or sports logo.

Despite the PM’s protestations the process was in fact awful, the Consideration Panel a terrible failure that contradicted its own published advice on what a flag should do, what its properties should be. How a group of individually capable people could be so collectively dumb will be one of the memories of this exercise. That their stupidity was even too much for the Prime Minister was evidenced by the belated addition of “Red Peak” just so the process could regain some respectability. Ultimately it was that Consideration Panel however that totally ruined the exercise, it simply failed to provide any leadership or education. Instead we got the PM insisting on pushing the fern down the throats of the voters, his MPs sychophantically falling in behind that politicisation, rather than thinking for themselves.

In the end the taxpayer funded $27m for a process to produce a new flag for the National Party. That’s how politicised the process became.

The National Party’s New Flag was last modified: March 25th, 2016 by Gareth Morgan
About the Author

Gareth Morgan

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Gareth Morgan is a New Zealand economist and commentator on public policy who in previous lives has been in business as an economic consultant, funds manager, and professional company director. He is also a motorcycle adventurer and philanthropist. Gareth and his wife Joanne have a charitable foundation, the Morgan Foundation, which has three main stands of philanthropic endeavour – public interest research, conservation and social investment.