The "underdog" of Red Peak has emerged at the eleventh hour in the race to become the nation's next flag - and columnist Toby Manhire might be one of the men to thank.

Prime Minister John Key announced today the Government would pick up legislation to add Aaron Dustin's Red Peak design as a fifth option in the referendum.

READ MORE: Red Peak design to be added as fifth option - John Key

The remarkable u-turn comes after a wave of public support for the design, amounting to more than 50,000 signatures on a Change.org petition.

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Columnist Toby Manhire was the first to write about Red Peak in the mainstream media, after seeing a heartfelt blog post about the flag from Rowan Simpson titled "Dear John".

Manhire told the Herald today the decision to include Red Peak has rescued what was a "laughable" process.

But the design would still be an underdog despite the late public support and blogs backing it, he said.

"I do think that Red Peak is the underdog, I'm not about to run out and bid my house on it...I think it just returns a kind of vigour and legitimacy to the process," he said.

"I think I would be delighted if [my column] played a part in things but it was one of a number of voices that were just expressing kind of bafflement at the selection of the four."

Manhire's original column largely detailed the "annoying" aspects of the flag-change process - everything from John Key's patriotism to Paul Henry's flag suit and the lack of experts on the selection panel.

But Red Peak - and the similar "Wa kainga / Home" flag that won Gareth Morgan's competition - meant Manhire's "cynicism began to melt".

"The lack of any actual designer or graphic artist on the flag panel is annoying in a bang-your-head-on-the-wall sort of way. "As someone annoyingly wiser than me has pointed out, just imagine a panel tasked to select alternative national anthems without a single musician," he wrote.

Later, he adds: "Red Peak has won me over. I love it....Team Red Peak. Unfurl the fifth flag."

And he thinks it's "tremendous" moves have been made which make that a possibility.

"It looked like it might get lost in political chess and game-playing and it hasn't and it's got through and I think that's great," he told the Herald.

"I've talked to lots of people, and I'm one of them too, that the first time I saw that flag was sort of 'Meh' but then you read the explanation you think about it you reflect on it...and suddenly your perspective changes."

Red Peak designer Aaron Dustin agreed his flag was the "underdog".

He said it was great to see parliament respond to the spontaneous groundswell and to see real choice in the debate."I deeply respect that people hold different views about the flag, and there is no doubt First to the Light - Red Peak is going to be the underdog," he said.

Meanwhile, design experts say Red Peak's inclusion is a step in the right direction but not a "total win".

Designers Institute of New Zealand chief executive Cathy Veninga said the organisation should have been involved in the process from the get-go."

It ought to be included...but, still, the five flags do not live up to the potential for a flag that represents a well-designed New Zealand icon for now and the future."

Massey University designer and vexillologist Thomas Le Bas said Red Peak's inclusion was a positive but not the "ultimate win".

He created website Flagpost in June so people could debate the various designs and said Red Peak showed greater depth and craft than the other four designs.

"It's a win but it's not a giant win. I think it's good in the sense that we have something that has a lot of thought, a lot of depth to it, has a sense of craft, a sense of honesty in terms of this is what a flag should look like," Mr Le Bas said.

Rowan Simpson could not respond to comments in time for deadline.

Herald columnist Toby Manhire said the decision to include Red Peak has rescued what was a
Herald columnist Toby Manhire said the decision to include Red Peak has rescued what was a "laughable" process. Photo / Supplied