Looks like I’ll be voting in two referenda before 2016 is half over. The first, in March, will ask, “What is your choice for the New Zealand flag?” Then in June, should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?
Yesterday as I was driving over Auckland Harbour Bridge, a New Zealand environmentalist on the radio was talking about the link between global warming and obesity. It had not occurred to me that such a link existed. His thesis was that both are linked to consumerism. We grow fat, and discharge tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as a result of the driving forces of our economic systems. I fell to wondering if there might be a similar hidden connection between the forthcoming referenda, and if they might share a common theme.
I’m not sure what the driving force was for the “Flag Consideration Project”. It may be that many New Zealanders now consider the inclusion of the British flag in the top left corner (the “canton” or “upper hoist quarter”) to be purely historic and sentimental. But there isn’t a huge appetite for Republicanism currently in New Zealand. A more likely explanation is that New Zealanders wish to be distinguished from Australians. Many people – perhaps most people – cannot tell the flags apart. For the record, the incumbent flag of New Zealand is a blue ensign defaced with four stars of the Crux Australis in red, outlined in white. The Australian… well, it has six stars.
Anyway the process is well underway. From a total of 10,292 designs, the Flag Consideration Panel longlisted 40, then shortlisted 5. (Vexillologists may be relieved to know that the “Modern Hundertwasser” design was excluded for copyright reasons.) These were put to the public vote in a postal referendum last November-December. The turnout was 48.78%, perhaps indicating a certain voter apathy. In the absence of an overall majority, the flags with the least votes were sequentially disqualified until, on the fourth iteration, a design by Kyle Lockwood was chosen. This will now compete with the current flag in the second, and final, referendum.
You can see both flags flapping lazily on the Auckland Harbour Bridge high above the Waitemata, apparently quite happy in each other’s company. Driving past them, I wondered, no doubt unfairly, whether Kyle Lockwood might be a committee, and his flag a “camel”, that is, a horse designed by a committee. The Southern Cross on its blue background remains, the Union Jack goes, to be replaced by a triangular area in pure black (Kiwi sporting colour), these two being separated by the iconographic New Zealand silver fern.
If I were a betting man I’d wager that the status quo will win the day in March. I just don’t detect any passion for change. Indeed, the only passion in evidence comes from the veterans’ lobby who regard the timing of the referendum, 100 years after Gallipoli, as extremely distasteful.
And what of June? Down in this remote sliver of land in the South Pacific I read in to-day’s New Zealand Herald that the London mayor was still swithering, but it was very nice to get a phone call from Blighty this morning while I was strolling round the delightful Hatea Loop around Whangarei’s Hatea River. I gather that Boris is for Brexit. The next 100 days are going to be interesting.
You might say that the Eurosceptic view of Britain’s place in the European Union is that it resembles the incumbent flag of New Zealand, in which the Union Flag has been marginalised to one corner of the frame. It is an issue of sovereignty. Eurosceptics are fearful that, in due course and by stealth, the sovereignty of the UK will be removed from the frame altogether. Campaigners to stay in Europe say that this is nonsense and that, while the EU has its faults, it is a far more democratic institution than it is often purported to be. Economic arguments are deployed to suggest that Britain will be marginalised and her influence diminished, not by staying in, but by leaving.
Well, we’ll just have to wait and see. I think I know how I’m going to vote in March, but as for June, and has for which way it will go, I haven’t a clue.