For weeks the flag referendum has been a debacle. Nobody understands why we’re not having a simple “do you want to change the flag” vote first, nobody understands how the hell two identical corporate logos got into the final four, nobody has a good explanation for why the government which re-introduced knighthoods suddenly got all aflutter about asserting our independence as a nation by scrapping the Union Jack.
Until Monday’s post-Cabinet press briefing, where John Key, half-Prime Minister half-circus contortionist, went from “Stop trying to make Red Peak happen, it’s not going to happen!”
“I love your enthusiasm, folks, but I’m SUPER SERIOUS about this! … Well, okay, technically we could.”
“In fact, we totally would, but they’re not playing ball.”
And in a moment in which apparently none of the Press Gallery’s heads exploded (they’ve clearly all maxed their Fortitude):
So in less than half an hour, as I sat checking Twitter on an early bus home, the flag story turned. From a $26 million ego trip, with Julie Christie, the woman who didn’t see value in having John Campbell on the telly, entrusted with the identity and ~brand~ of the nation, a PM who used every weasel word in the book to avoid spelling out that yes, he wants a fern on the flag, “public meetings” with an absolutely dismal turnout and a popular, grassroots campaign for a better option …
Suddenly, this is a problem of Labour’s doing.
It’s nonsensical. Wasn’t it just a week ago that John Key was dismissing the idea of changing the shortlist, because he’d have to change the law, which is obviously impossible for a government to do?
Brook Sabin found his own explanation:
Now, if you’re on the left, you just don’t believe that. Labour could have immediately said “hell yes, let’s do this thing!” and we just know, deep in our guts, where we’re still bitter about frankly made-up stories about Donghua Liu paying $100,000 for a bottle of wine, the line would be “Key, the great gameplayer, has masterfully turned the Opposition’s own arguments against them and come to a compromise which all New Zealanders will agree is decent and common-sense.”
The house always wins. John Key wins. Because we’ve come to accept that politics is a game, and political commentary is like sports commentary: more about how things occurred and whether the players are competent than what actually happened.
So we don’t get a lot of people with mainstream platforms pointing out that the need for a law change is a red herring, the waste of parliamentary time is a red herring, the demand for cross-party support in a red herring.
What gets reported is that Key played it really, really well.
And we’re all part of it. I’ve seen more lefties than journos saying “wow, that was masterful”, “dammit Labour, play the game better.” This entire post is about the political meta, not the facts!
This all leads people to say that John Key has magical political powers. And if you look at the results he gets, at the speed with which he turned a weeks-long tale of his own political machinations and frivolous spending of public money on a vanity project into a nationwide debate about whether or not it’s playing politics to point out he’s playing politics … it seems pretty magical.
But it makes me sad. Politics should be more than a game, and we should judge our leaders on what they achieve, not how brilliantly they cover up the fact they’re achieving nothing at all.
Makes for a catchy song though.