Flag referendum squarely at John Key?s feet. A personal folly leading to an expensive failure

Tracy Watkins writes an opinion piece about the?flag referendum and the final week of voting.

Is John Key on the brink of his first big defeat?

No Tracy, that was Northland…but he saw the writing on the wall with that one and let Steve Joyce take one in the chook.

Voting is about to close in the first of two flag referendums and Key’s favoured design, the blue and black silver fern, could well take out the first round.

But it may be a pyrrhic victory if voter turnout fails to pick up in a last minute rush.

Because if barely more than a quarter of voters bother to return their ballot papers, Key will face huge pressure to call off the second round of voting for lack of interest.

To call it off midway through would be farcical so Key will have no choice but to stick it out to the end. ?

Besides, he will back himself to whip up interest in the debate once people have an alternative to the current flag to focus on.

Key’s absence for much of the time since the final shortlist was announced may be partly to blame for the lack of interest.

When the four designs were first unveiled there was a huge public response and a video posted by Key on his Facebook page received more than one million views.

But he has been on the go on the world stage fro weeks, attending Apec, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, East Asia summit and elsewhere.

When Key announced his plan to put the flag to a vote before the last election it seemed like a response to the criticism that National doesn’t “get” nationhood.

It also smacked of legacy crafting.

But it was also typically Key, a gesture of optimism about the future, a moment that was supposed to draw a line through the global financial crisis and earthquakes that dominated National’s first years in office.

But it has failed to fire the imagination and worse, has rubbed many people up the wrong way.

I don’t think Key consulted anyone when he announced he was going to attempt to change the flag. The rather ham-fisted excuses and explanations were the obvious point.

It took him months to realise that the referendum was a lost cause despite many people telling him privately it was a forlorn hope. But the damage was done and it was seen as is his personal vanity project.

A personal project that is lost.

It hasn’t helped Labour though, because the public could see through their shameless politicking and rank hypocrisy in opposing the change process when it is identical to their own policy.

That is the only saving grace for John Key, that the opposition bombed their strategy and mitigated the personal hit.

If I had been Labour I would have said nothing, let the process roll through then pin the failure fairly and squarely on Key’s shoulders. They didn’t do that, and now Key can blame them for the failure to change.


– Fairfax