Paul Beresford: I'm proud that Kiwis still fly a flag for the old country

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The vote to keep New Zealand's flag shows we remain fiercely proud of our relationship to Britain.
The current NZ flag came out on top in the flag referendum. Photo / David White
The current NZ flag came out on top in the flag referendum. Photo / David White

On the other side of the world, 18,000km away, another referendum has just reached its conclusion. New Zealand has voted decisively to retain its present flag after almost two years of heated debate, some very dodgy design proposals and what some might regard as a rather anticlimactic ending.

Nevertheless, I am pleased as punch about the result, announced yesterday: from a 67.3 per cent turnout, 56.6 per cent voted in favour of keeping our very British, very Commonwealth flag, complete with the Union Flag proudly displayed in the top corner.
What does this tell us? I would argue that it shows that Kiwis - despite savage rivalry on the rugby pitch, years of joshing from our British cousins about the size of our sheep population, and the fact that New Zealand now trades far more with Asia than Britain - remain fiercely proud of their ties to the old country.

I am just one living example of this. Although I am both English and a British MP, I have dual nationality. I was born, bred and educated in New Zealand, arriving in east London to work in the NHS in the seventies.

I was made very welcome here, especially after it was recognised that I was not Australian (if you ever wish to insult a Kiwi, ask them if they're an Aussie). I've fitted happily into British culture ever since, only experiencing identity crises at certain rugby matches - usually overcome by strenuously cheering for England, but only after betting on the All Blacks.

Admittedly, the relationship between Britons and their Antipodean cousins hasn't always been as harmonious. The original settlers of New Zealand, the Maori, weren't overly keen on the arrival, several centuries later, of a host of British chancers, and 20 years of war ensued. But gradually the relationship between the peoples calmed, settled, and eventually became close.

Now there is enormous national pride in the Maori - hence the proposed new flag design, which incorporated a silver fern on a semi-black background. (That the Maori vote was heavily in support of the status quo only proves how integrated modern New Zealand really is.)

Nowhere, however, is the strength of the relationship between Britain and New Zealand more apparent than in times of conflict. New Zealand and Australian men poured over to Europe to support Britain in both World Wars. Thousands of Kiwi lives were lost at Gallipoli, Monte Cassino, in Crete, North Africa and the Greek and Italian peninsulas. New Zealand lost far more troops per capita in World War II than the UK and the Maori Battalion lost a huge proportion of the 36,000 who volunteered. We've been allies since, including in Malaya and Afghanistan.

Even today, many of the older generation of Kiwis call the UK "Home" and treasure thick books of beautiful photographs of British scenes, even if they were born and bred in New Zealand.

Is it surprising, then, that we voted to keep our flag with its reminder of British colonialism? Not a bit of it. New Zealand's political establishment might believe that distancing the country further from its Commonwealth heritage is a good thing. But I'm proud to say that the people think otherwise.

• Sir Paul Beresford is a Kiwi in the UK. He is the Conservative MP for Mole Valley

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- Daily Telegraph UK

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