If nothing else, this much is clear: Red Peak begets puce pique.

Those over the past week who have spoken in favour of putting the Aaron Dustin-designed flag on the shortlist are "Red Peak trolls", thundered one of New Zealand's finest broadcasters, Sean Plunket. It was just "a few thousand people on social media", it was "the John Key haters ... Too late losers!"

"Twenty people on Twitter isn't a groundswell," harrumphed the excellent politics writer Rob Hosking. Red Peak advocates were "trying - hilariously and belatedly - to manufacture a defeat for the prime minister. It is bitter, it is personal, and it is also more than a bit stupid."

They were joined by a handful of other hyperventilating commentators, including a Fairfax columnist from the Manawatu who denounced me for starting a "cul-de-sac" social media campaign, in courageous defiance of the fact that I didn't start the campaign and the piece I wrote was in the Herald.

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Their argument, in short: John Key haters! Fnarr! Social media bubble! Fnarr! It's too late! Process! Fnarr!

Inconveniently, Rowan Simpson, who sparked the Red Peak surge in a blog post, submitted a silver-fern-on-black flag, Key's original preference. Of his political persuasions Simpson says: "I'm left-handed but otherwise mostly right." Act leader David Seymour, who actively supports Red Peak going on the shortlist, seems an unlikely leftwing plotter, as does former Act leader Rodney Hide. Mike Hosking backs the flag's inclusion, too. Truly, the complexities of these Red Peak cossacks' anti-Key, anti-fern jihad are too confusing for me.

There's no doubt that some want to roll up Red Peak and use it to beat Key. They're the same small group that would pounce on the late arrival of a bus as evidence of Key's wickedness.

Have a look at the ways the design has been put to use at redpeakof.nz - in a week, people have slapped it on shoes, dresses, comic books, dropped into sports events, graphs, assembled on cakes. There are dozens of ingenious images there, and they epitomise the heart of the Red Peak mood: creative and curious, critical but constructive. A social media bubble? Well, more than 35,000 have signed the online petition; 20,000 followers on the Red Peak Facebook page is not to be sniffed at - it's more than three times the number following the official flag project page. When the flag panel roadshow attracted tiny audiences around the country, we were assured not to worry: the engagement would happen online. It certainly is now.

Then there's the too-late-losers thing. Fair enough, up to a point. Latecomers can be really annoying. But the way these process worshippers scuttle about like short-circuited robot prefects suggests Kiwis are slaves of the process, rather than the other way round. And if the process delivers a shortlist with three fern flags, two of them all but identical, then the process is clearly borked.

I've no idea whether Red Peak would beat out the others to become the flag. If obliged to wager, I'd say probably not. But the upsurge of heartfelt and non-partisan support warrants it a place on the ballot. It's a mad world, surely, when a National government doesn't want to give people a real choice.

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