The first person to ring the Herald office after the Maori flag announcement yesterday afternoon was a Dover Samuels, retired MP of the north, though you wouldn't have known he was retired. He was frothing about the decision.

Against it that is, flying the tino rangatiratanga flag next to the New Zealand flag. It wasn't the flag that New Zealanders had lived and died under, he said. It was about separatism. It should have been announced by Hone Harawira. He had to take his hat off to him for getting it accepted. But it was the thin end of the wedge. Next it would be a separate Maori Parliament.

He said all the sorts of things his old mate Phil Goff couldn't say - even if he wanted to - after the disquiet in the Labour caucus about his recent speech on racial division.

Samuels has every reason to be bitter against the Maori Party. Hone Harawira beat him in 2005 in Te Tai Tokerau and he sat his final three years out as a Labour list MP.

But what Samuels was saying was hearfelt and it was no more than most conservative Labour supporters would be saying, and no more than a lot of loyal John Key supporters would be thinking.

What is interesting about the Key decision on the flag is that it was made by him while on holiday last January and announced as soon as he returned to work - before Cabinet even met for the year. That indicates to me that he saw it as of no great moment. Just a flag.

Yesterday he saw it as a flag that symbolised hope and potential and the partnership that had grown out of the Treaty of Waitangi. Quite a conversion.

The issue was revived in January by the Herald. The flag on the Auckland Harbour Bridge had been a real issue the year before especially when Transit refused to fly the Maori sovereignty flag but allowed the EU flag. Even Helen Clark talked about getting the rules changed.

When my colleague Claire Trevett rang Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples on January 8 he said he would be asking Key about the flag. The Herald ran a very supportive editorial changing its former opposition to support.

Key had been holidaying in Hawaii, no doubt following the political critics back home who reckoned his Government had not been working hard enough or had lost momentum since the November election. He returned to New Zealand with a series of decisions to announce at a press conference, including the flag one.

It was evident from yesterday's post cabinet press conference that little thought has gone into how it will work and possible consequences beyond the fact that it is not an official flag and that it probably won't be flown beyond Waitangi Day.

It would be my fervent personal hope that the flying of the two flags works out well, that no one is too upset, and that it marks the start of a more hopeful sort of Waitangi Day.

But who knows where it will lead? It could be the turning point or rallying point for something quite unforseen - not a separate Parliament, despite Dover Samuels' fears - but something not yet known.

The "partnership" concept upon which the two-flags-flying was justified yesterday by John Key was established only in 1987 in a Court of Appeal judgment. And in 2004 his party repudiated the concept. He is to be commended for repudiating his party's former position.

But symbols are important and powerful. Which is why more consideration and consultation could have gone into it.

Language is powerful too and I was surprised to see Te Karere subtitles last week referring to Ngai Tahu as the Ngai Tahu "nation".

MP Shane Jones was being interviewed by Scotty Morrison about the ETS deal between five tribes and the Government. Even when Jones referred to the Ngai Tahu "iwi" it was translated as Ngai Tahu "nation".

We are in New Zealand, not North America. And surely the word iwi doesn't even need translating.