Labour’s absurd stance on the flag change process may have seemed like a brilliant strategy to Andrew Little, Trevor Mallard and Matt McCarten at the time it was devised, but it risked ridicule (there’s already been some of that) and risks more as the referendum process rolls on regardless of Little’s lame opposition to something he and Labour have previously supported.
Vernon Small writes in Labour ‘nuanced’ opposition to the flag referendum lacks standards (is ‘nuanced’ a typo for ‘nonsensical’?):
When it comes to the flag, the time has come for a change and it is right for the issue to be put to the public.
We knew this was Labour’s position at the last election because it said: “We believe that the time has come for a change and it is right for the issue to be put to the public.”
(The rest of its policy was to “review the design of the New Zealand flag involving flag design experts and with full public consultation and involvement” but to back the RSA and others to fly the current flag if they so wished.)
Now, though, it thinks it has detected which way the wind is blowing and has adopted with gusto a new (ersatz) opposition to a new flag.
That reached peak absurdity this week when leader Andrew Little pledged not to even vote in the referendum to chose which flag would run-off against the current one.
Call it a principled position on an unprincipled u-turn if you like. Or maybe, a stand on a standard without standards.
Either way, rest assured. If there is going to be a new flag there’s no way Little – even as a potential future prime minister – wants even a citizen’s say in how it looks.
So Labour is now both in full oppositional mode on the issue, while insisting it is still in favour of a new flag. (The technical term for this is a “nuanced” stance.)
As I posited – that could also read ‘nonsensical’.
The Government’s plan, backed by officials’ advice, is the better option.
More recently Labour has also pointed to growing opposition to a change, backed by public polling.
And throughout it has played on the notion a change now (lest we forget, Labour and Little still support a change) is simply Prime Minister John Key’s “vanity project” – an attempt to create a legacy – or, worse, a distraction.
But there’s more. Now is no longer the right time for a change.
Instead, a delay of five years would be about right. (Perhaps it thinks there’s a good chance Labour will be in power then and can create a “legacy” of its own?).
Has Little actually said “a delay of five years would be about right”?
It may be good politics – though even that is questionable.
Highly questionable now, and it’s likely to be more questionable as the referendums roll on.
But it all looks pretty weird coming from a party that for years has seemed more enthusiastic about a new flag than the Government.
It’s a safe wager that a poll of MPs three years ago would have seen overwhelming backing from Labour and a more lukewarm response from National.
And it also involves something of a political gamble.
Sure, the public mood against a change could become overwhelming and the final run-off between the four options could become a fizzer.
But it is equally likely that, as the options get whittled down, the public mood identifies a front-runner and there is an intense public debate over whether a change should be made.
I think that as the choices are whittled down and as the referendums become reality then public debate and interest will rise.
Especially when the second referendum allows us to choose between the current flag and the best of the new suggestions.
As Small says, that risks leaving Little and Labour”
…left to squeak impotently from the sidelines “too soon”.
And if Little manages to sabotage the flag change process (very unlikely) and remains leader of Labour and Labour manage to get into Government it is very difficult to see any attempts by Little to initiate a flag change in five years time will have any credibility.
Whatever the outcome of the flag referendums realistically this is the only opportunity I will get to participate in choice of flag for New Zealand.
Little should be clear about whether he supports flag choice – now or never?