The votes are in: politicians hijacked our flag debate
ANALYSIS: On Wairakei Rd in the Christchurch suburb of Bryndwr, smack in the middle of the Ilam electorate, Kyle Lockwood's vanquished vision for a new New Zealand flag billows unbowed.
Pete McCrea ordered it when it was selected as the challenger to our incumbent ensign in December. He was a Red Peak fan until then, but no matter. It was the change that was important.
"The old Union Jack doesn't do too much for me," he said. "I just wanted to get [the alternative] out there; get people talking, really."
It encouraged some debate, at least. One person knocked on the door to ask where he got it. Another dropped a note in the mail box with a cut out of the Union Jack and listed, quite politely, the reasons why change was bad.
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In the end, the mystery postman was on the side of right. Fifty-seven per cent of New Zealand voted to keep the current flag preliminary referendum results showed on Thursday. A little less resounding than expected, but a win's a win.
McCrea wasn't bothered. He expected the result. If he wanted some consolation though, he could tell himself that his Ilam electorate was one of six around the country that gave majority support to the Lockwood flag.
In a sure-thing referendum, that was the surprise. Traditionally, the bedrock of support for ditching a colonial symbol like our Union Jack banner comes from progressive quarters while the conservatives stick to their knitting.
But this time in the vanguard we had, along with Ilam, Tamaki, Selwyn, Bay of Plenty, East Coast Bays and Clutha-Southland. Not exactly beacons of avant-garde reform. Four of them were among the top six National-voting seats in the last general election.
Scrolling down an electorate list from most to least supportive of the Lockwood flag is like watching a pendulum swing from Right to Left. The bottom third is almost entirely made up of Auckland, Maori and urban seats.
Kiwis shouldn't be surprised. From the time Prime Minister John Key first floated the flag change idea, it never threatened to become a cultural conversation or constitutional debate. It had more the air of a party policy that voters were for or against. The Left smelled a Key legacy project and went in for the kill. The Right fell in behind their man.
"It's a bit of a shame," McCrea said.
"A lot of the reasons people gave for not changing were stupid."
McCrea bucked the trend a little – no fan of Key, but strongly for a new flag. A refreshing position in a process that was hopelessly politicised from the start.
McCrea's main criticism of it was the lack of visibility for the challenger.
"People needed to see it," he said.
"Around the city I would have liked to see more of them flying side-by-side."
Anyone in Christchurch can drive down Wairakei Rd if they want a glimpse. But maybe not for long.
"I'll probably take it down now," McCrea said.
He thinks on that for a minute.
"Maybe I should leave it up."
FLAGGING NATIONAL SUPPORT:
% for Lockwood flag % 2014 National party vote
Tamaki 51.9 65.6
Selwyn 51.7 63.5
Bay of Plenty 51.4 57.5
East Coast Bays 51.1 63.2
Ilam 50.8 57.6
Clutha-Southland 50.4 63.2