Is the flag referendum a red flag for Key?

On Sunday 06 December 2015, for the first time in seven years of this National-led Government, I saw an article that suggested that it might be on the brink of a major defeat. And when one looks at all of the problems that are starting to engulf National, it is not terribly surprising. But this one is about more than National. This potential defeat, should it happen is about one man’s desire to change the flag, and an opposition that is galvanized enough to cause terminal damage to this Government.

I have never liked the flag referendums. To me it has always smacked of being a smoke screen for something much worse, such as probably the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. It just seemed when the idea first came to public attention that the timing was exquisitely poor, and had a huge stench of “why now?”.

There have been so many missed opportunities in the last 20 years, not just with this National-led Government of Prime Minister John Key, but also the preceding Labour-led Government of former Prime Minister Helen Clark. Like Ms Clark, Mr Key is seeking to leave behind some sort of legacy that he hopes New Zealand will remember him fondly for. Although there was nothing spectacular about it, Ms Clark’s Government is perhaps better remembered for solid governance in a period – 11 September 2001 aside – that was relatively peaceful and free of major disasters or bad world events. Now with his Government having done seven years and facing a crippling bout of third term-itis where Ministers become indifferent, mistakes start to increase and the Opposition more confident, Mr Key is trying to leave his mark.

He is struggling. The dislike of New Zealanders for the whole flag change idea is widespread – even many of my National Party mates think it is a dumb idea or that it is hiding something worse. Mr Key is struggling to shake of the perception that he will ignore the view of the voters, based on past reactions to laws changes and votes that have not gone his way. The resistance is growing and it is something that the Opposition parties are all working together on. Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First are all dead set against it, using a considerable amount of their available media time to criticize the proposals. So is the Returned Services Association, many of whose members fought and died for that flag and all that it stood for then and now. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has also made public a suggestion to the public that they write “keep our flag” on the ballot papers.

The deadline to get votes back is Friday 11 December. Mr Key might be expecting a flood of votes to fill up mail bags all over New Zealand in the next few days, but as yet only a third of people have actually bothered voting

Could this be the red flag moment for the Prime Minister that the Opposition have spent so long trying to get? A moment when the opposition to something the Government is doing is so great that it – unless one wants to lose the 2017 election – is not worth continuing?

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