Flag referendum 1

I’m a politics nerd, so of course I was excited to receive my voting papers in the mail for the first part of the flag referendum – despite strongly disagreeing with the way it’s been conducted, the fact it’s a smokescreen for the Key government’s third-term flailing, the bankruptcy of the “design process” and lack of genuine public debate, and of course what a gigantic waste of money all of the above entails.

On the other hand … boxes to fill in! Options to rank! I’m so easily pleased in some regards.

If you have serious questions about the voting process, Graeme Edgeler seems to have covered everything off over at Public Address. If you have uncovered the truth about the flag referendum and need to tell the world about DUE AUTHORITY, the TPPA, the constitutional importance of the Union Jack, or the two-year time limit which will allow John Key to personally change the flag without a further ballot if the number of formal votes exceeds the number of informal votes … please form an orderly queue to see Dr Dentith.

Having previously said I think the first referendum is essentially rigged in favour of John Key’s put-a-fern-on-it preference, I’m still going to rank the options I like and leave the ones I don’t. The received wisdom is we’re going to reject a flag change in the second referendum anyway (which would really show what a farce the whole process has been) but I want to do what I can to make sure our current flag is at least up against an alternative I like.

You, personally, get to decide what you want to do with your vote. Not voting is always an option.

The only thing I’ll say is that trying to “send a message” by not voting or spoiling your ballot is an uncertain game. Yes, a low turnout could say that we the people reject the process – or it could, and probably will, be spun as “we’re all pretty relaxed about the process.” High numbers of informal/spoiled votes could say that many of us think the process is corrupt – or it could, and probably will, be spun as “those weirdos on the Left who hate democracy” or “see, we told you preferential voting systems just confuse people, let’s try to resurrect FPP again!”

If you want to send a message, send that message. Sign a petition which clearly states your view, or write a letter to the editor, or take to the streets, or tweet it. We live in a world dominated by spin, marketing and short attention spans – we have to work extra hard to make sure our opinions are clearly stated and not open to mischievous misinterpretation for other people’s ends.

Getting the flag we want

eddie izzard flag

I admit I’m a latecomer on the Red Peak bandwagon. It’s not Red Peak’s fault. It’s a fine flag.

One funny little irony is that the anti-Red Peak criticism I’ve seen most often is “you’re trying to gerrymander the referendum because of your kneejerk hatred of John Key”. But the reason I initially didn’t like Red Peak is that it’s quite similar to the winner of Gareth Morgan’s $20,000 ego trip flag design competition.

And I definitely have a kneejerk hatred of Gareth Morgan.

But Red Peak has a lovely bandwagon full of fine people like Toby Manhire and Lachlan Forsyth. Red Peak has a great back story which reflects New Zealand in a way that mashing together a bunch of face-value cultural touchstones doesn’t. It just feels right.

Kids can draw it, which is such a Kiwi criterion for something that it makes me feel national pride every time I say it.

It’s not on the shortlist, but if you look at the shortlist, that’s a massive point in its favour. After all, the flag consideration panel ignored their own advice about the principles of flag design when they selected it. And it’s not likely to be added at the last minute (as Canada’s winning design was) if only because John Key can only handle so many embarrassing backdowns in one month.

But not all is lost. We can get the flag we want. The first referendum is clearly rigged; some people have ideas of which flag will be the least likely to defeat our current one, and going by iPredict (I assure you, I do know how iPredict works) and Twitter it’s the most-soulless corporate logo one. But it’s a preferential vote and in all likelihood one of the soulless corporate Lockwoods will get it.

Not THIS Lockwood.
Not THIS Lockwood.

So bugger the first referendum. The place to start is the second: with a vote to keep our current flag, and an implied “so we can try this again in a few years”.

Then the Red Peak campaign keeps going. Keep using it in avatars and profile pictures, take it to rugby tests and Twenty20 matches, fly it on Waitangi Day next to a tino rangatiratanga flag. Make it the de facto flag Kiwis use when they want to show a bit of patriotism – god knows not many of us are using the current one that way, and plenty of us would like to not be mistaken for All Blacks fans.

Then, when we have to make this decision again – probably, and fittingly, at the point we become a republic – the decision is all but made. There’s already an alternative ensign people are happy to call theirs.

And it doesn’t have a bloody silver fern on it.

I have to leave the final word to the glorious Eddie Izzard.

Political resistance is the opposite of gerrymandering

A slightly odd headline at the Herald this morning:

Revealed: Plots to gerrymander flag referendum

Four shortlisted flag designs will be put to the vote in November but plots to gerrymander the referendum results are already under way.

Deborah Russell’s response makes the point pretty clearly:

See, the chair of the Flag Consideration Panel, John Burrows, doesn’t like the fact that people are saying he did a piss-poor job, by delivering a shortlist of two practically-identical, already-commercially-used silver ferns, one alreadyused-by-apparentlyeveryone silver fern, and the plainest, least-scarily-“cultural” koru in existence (All hail Hypnoflag!).

John says:

“I hope there won’t be much gerrymandering because I think people have got to see what an important occasion this is.

“It’s the one chance people have in their lifetimes to do it. So to actually waste a vote for political or other reasons I think will appear to most people as unpalatable and unattractive.”

Indeed, god forbid people get political about the sovereign symbol of their nation’s identity.

britney confused

There’s a worrying idea at work here, and it’s become a familiar one since John Key became Prime Minister: democracy is only democracy when people are forced to participate and deliver the results John Key wants.

So it’s not democratic when the people of Canterbury elect a regional council which wants to impose restrictions on just how much the farming sector can plunder natural resources. Out they go. It’s not democratic when thousands of people march against the TPPA because they’re just a “rent-a-crowd”.

And it’s definitely not democratic for people to refuse to hush, keep their heads down, and give John Key the flag he clearly wants. Frankly, how dare you think that the democratic process of determining what flag flies in our country’s name involves you having any kind of say in the process? How dare you think that you have some kind of right to protest the obviously rigged competition being run in your name?

Spoiling a ballot paper or refusing to fill one out is not gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is a process for the powerful to entrench their power by rendering the votes of the people meaningless. Gerrymandering, in fact, could look a lot like giving people an incredibly limited set of options and bullying them into taking part by attacking their patriotism if they don’t.

Oh god, is this whole flag referendum is a metaphor for First Past the Post?

Vote however the heck you want to, people. Vote for the design you like best. Vote for the design you think has the best, or worst, chance of winning the final showdown against our current one. Randomly assign numbers. Flip a coin if you really just like filling out boxes.

But remember: Not voting can also be an act of democratic participation. Whether that means you just don’t “show up” (I know, it’s a postal ballot) or you deliberate spoil your ballot by (ideas I’ve actually seen): writing “I want our flag” on your ballot, crossing out all the options, or stapling a copy of your preferred flag design to the ballot paper – if you’re making a choice not to play John Key’s game, you’re sending just as powerful a message.

When the people in charge are getting upset because a lot of ordinary folk are saying things they don’t like, and have the power to create change: you’re doing something very, very right.

you go glenn coco


A side note: This is also why I reject the condescending way some on the left talk about non-voters – the “sleepy hobbits” attitude. Choosing not to exercise your vote because you do not have trust in the system, or because there are no options offered which you support, is as much a political act as voting. Our current system doesn’t offer a “no vote” or “no confidence” option. I think it should. Until it does, we have no way of determining whether or not someone’s lack of voting is indicative of laziness or active dissatisfaction, and we shouldn’t make assumptions about it to justify our elitist posturing.

The coat-tail rule and democracy

Allow me to fly in the face of an accepted truth in NZ politics by saying this: there is absolutely nothing undemocratic about the MMP “coat-tail” rules.

This has quickly become the meme du jour around the Internet/Mana alliance (and I keep using the A-word very deliberately, because there’s an important precedent which people keep ignoring!) as propounded by Patrick Gower:

… Laila Harré is wrecking MMP.

Hone Harawira is wrecking MMP.

And Kim Dotcom is wrecking MMP.

They are using Harawira’s seat and MMP’s “coat-tail” rule to get a back-door entry into Parliament.

It is a rort.

It is a grubby deal, made all the worse by the fact Harawira holds the Te Tai Tokerau seat – a Maori seat.

As both mickysavage at The Standard and Danyl at Dim-Post have noted, there’s a funny little irony here: National had the opportunity to reform MMP, but they didn’t – because, we can probably assume, they thought they’d be hurting their own chances by doing so. (And they thought ACT would be able to lift its polling numbers.) Now, their failure to act is biting them on the arse.

But there’s another point – a point I can make by strategically editing an anonymous Stuff editorialist writing on the coat-tail rule:

A weakness of the mixed-member proportional system [is that it] … allows a party … to gain seats according to the proportion of the party vote.

Hang on a tick. It’s a weakness of MMP that parties gain seats proportional to their share of the party vote? Isn’t that how MMP is meant to work?

I agree, there is unfairness in MMP, but it’s not the “coat-tailing” – it’s the plight of parties which don’t win electorate seats.

Take New Zealand First. In 1999, they received 4.26% of the vote – not enough to cross the threshold, but because Winston held Tauranga, they gained 5 seats. But in 2008, they received 4.07% of the vote and didn’t hold Tauranga – so they were out.

The real irony? Due to the increase in overall voters, New Zealand First actually received nearly 7,500 more votes in 2008 than 1999. Nearly 100,000 Kiwis’ votes were rendered void in 2008, because there was no seat to coat-tail on to.

87,000 votes got you 5 seats in 1999. 95,000 votes got you no seats in 2008. Is that fair?

Say what you like about Winston Peters and New Zealand First – but I think that kind of situation “wrecks MMP” far more than a couple of parties coming to a mutual agreement about working together to ensure their constituents have the best possible chance of being represented – fairly and proportionally – in Parliament.