Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

This new flag campaign is a fiasco and doomed to fail

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In a couple of weeks' time, the tea towel faces off with the existing flag in a second referendum. Illustration / Peter Bromhead
In a couple of weeks' time, the tea towel faces off with the existing flag in a second referendum. Illustration / Peter Bromhead

As a supporter of lost causes for most of my life, can I say Prime Minister John Key's campaign to change the flag has a very familiar whiff of failure about it.

Poor Lewis Holden, chairman of Change the NZ Flag, sees hope in the narrowing of the gulf between pro- and anti-change support in recent polls.

The latest, by National Party pollsters Curia Marketing, has 36 per cent either supporting change (24 per cent) or leaning towards it (12 per cent), versus 56 per cent wanting to keep the existing flag.

Clutching at straws, he says this 20 per cent gap was narrower than the 30 per cent recorded in a Reid Research poll. "We're coming from behind but Kiwis love an underdog."

As one-time leader of NZ Republicans, Mr Holden knows that's not necessarily so. And with referendum papers going out in a couple of weeks, I don't know that National Party-backed fundraisers, with auctions of bottles of whisky signed by the prime minister, will help.

The issue here is not so much underdog, but dog, as in mongrel of a design. The selection of an alternative flag design has been a fiasco.

The 10-member independent flag panel charged with selecting four contenders from the myriad submitted by the public, included an ex-All Black and former Chief of Defence, but no design expert.

They picked four, two identical, except for slight colour variations, by the same submitter. Three were dominated by a silver fern.

Then a 50,000 signature petition for the "Red Peak" design bullied the panel, and then Mr Key, into pushing through a special act of Parliament to have it added to the first referendum. It lost. One of the twin designs won.

By then I'd given up. All five were amateur-hour embarrassments. For the first time in my adult life, I didn't vote. As a vote-a-holic, this was a big thing.

In London doing my OE during the 70s, I even voted in two British elections in the same year. New Zealanders were allowed to, so I did. It was my right and duty as a citizen in a democracy.

But last year the referendum ballot paper sat on my coffee table for three weeks unopened and I gradually stared it down. Like Mr Holden, I'd love to change the flag. (Like Mr Holden, I'd also love to become a truly independent republic.)

However, the five options I was being asked to choose from were cringe-worthy. At least the existing flag looked like a flag. Whatever my feelings about its dated imperial trappings, I wasn't prepared to replace it with what others have called "a tea towel".

In a couple of weeks' time, the tea towel faces off with the existing flag in a second referendum.

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The pro-change campaign are launching an online and social media campaign this week to try to whip the underdog over the line first. Mr Holden says it will address the "main objections" such as change would disrespect war veterans, and "it's not the right time".

Unfortunately what he can't change is what's holding me, and I suspect many others, back, and that's the design. My quandary this time is whether to abstain again, or vote against the dog.

I'm leaning towards the latter. I've always believed it's my duty to vote, even if, at times, I've had to hold my nose at the choices before me. This is one of those times.

READ MORE: Flag-change backers welcome poll trend

After all, Hawaii has survived since 1845 with the British Union Jack in the left hand top quarter of its flag, even though it's been part of the United States since 1898.

Leaving the design of our possible new national emblem to such an anti-intellectual process was odd. Government departments and private companies all spend a fortune on design consultants for new logos and branding.

Instead, the Government threw it open to the mob, leaving the short-listing to a Noah's Ark crew of amateurs whose only point of similarity was their absence of design expertise. Little wonder the result is an underdog. One which, hopefully, will soon be put down.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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