John Key and our flag – “slippery and evasive”?

John Key and our flag – “slippery and evasive”?

It’s rather late in the day for the mainstream media to begin to take on board the fact that our recycling Prime Minister John Key, unflatteringly described as “slippery and evasive” by a fed-up correspondent, is regarded as economical with the truth, when it comes to issues he wants to dodge. Herald columnist John Armstrong more circumspectly describes him as slick. Descriptions such as smug and self-regarding are also not likely to be contested.

            Should this bother us? After all, the respect in which politicians are held at large, is, unfortunately never considerable…unfortunate, because unlike as in Switzerland, where the people of this successful and highly democratic country actually control their politicians – who respectfully refer to the people themselves as “sovereign” – we are now at the stage where apparently John Key does as he likes, with a now supine National Party in tow.

            What about the fact that National are ignoring – that they do not have a mandate from the country to simply reflect the wishes of – or, rather, essentially kowtow to, an individual who slid back into power basically because a proliferation of opposing parties split the vote, with Labour, the main opposition, in complete disarray? And now, John Key, an overly assertive individual, exhibiting the same hubris as many highly damaging leaders have, throughout history, has his own agenda in relation to the New Zealand flag – he wants to get rid of it. And we should make no mistake; he is determined to do so.

            However, as a Dominion Post correspondent has pointed out, an inaccurate presentation of voting participation at the recent election should be corrected. It wasn’t either 20% or 23% of New Zealanders who did not vote. Rather, it was 31% – if the 23% of registered voters who did not go to the polls is added to the more than 8% who hadn’t registered at all. Moreover “when those who aren’t enrolled or didn’t vote are factored in, National received the support of 33% of the voting public compared to 36% who voted for other parties.” In other words, only a minority voted to reinstall Key’s government. Most New Zealanders did not want National back.

What of the consequences, then, of the fact that most New Zealanders did not vote to put John Key back again into a position which some would maintain he had already basically abused? Claiming a mandate for imposing his decision-making on the country – in the face of widespread disagreement from the electorate at large – is democratically damaging. Some would contend, with good evidence, that we are at present afflicted with an outstanding example of why our educationists should not be prioritising self-esteem as a must-teach priority to New Zealand children.

            The result, in adulthood, is producing too much of what apparently characterises individuals like John Key, confident that they above all know what’s best for everybody else – and have no hesitation about inflicting their agenda on others. And in the case of a wealthy, highly-determined, self-willed individual who happens to have made his way to the top, shouldn’t we be concerned – when the consequences can be highly damaging to the country?

            A quite shocking example of Key’s hubris was in his blithe ignoring of the wishes of over 85% New Zealanders when he decided to put a stop to good, conservative parents themselves using their judgment about disciplining their children – reinforcing a damaging liberal agenda which has already produced so many unruly, ill mannered, even bullying and uncontrolled children. The consequences – intimidated parents worrying about the police car pulling up at their gate – PC neighbours and manipulative offspring – could have been avoided, had today’s National Party MPs shown even a minimum of integrity. Apparently, while many behind-the-scenes were opposed to Key’s arrogance on this, as on other issues, and were approached by their electorates to represent them instead on this issue, not one did so.

            The result is the basic disenfranchisement of the country. And more is to come, with Key’s determination to get rid of our flag, rejecting the values that it has long represented to us all. We will have no support at all from National Party electorate MPs who should, in all integrity, now refrain from claiming that they genuinely represent their electorates. On the contrary, New Zealanders can now well and truly identify with Upton Sinclair’s observation that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Or, as National Minister Nick Smith famously said, when his party leader asks him to jump, he asks “How high.”


            The most shocking example of John Key’s prevarication has come in his recent questioning, in parliament, about how many times he had spoken to Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater. Previous to Minister Judith Collins’s outing with regard to what was regarded as inappropriate behaviour by a Minister suggesting an individual for Slater to target, Key had boasted of regularly contacting Slater two or three times a week. When recently asked in the House how many times he had done so, his reply -“None in my capacity as Prime Minister” – apparently put him in the clear. Reportedly, the distinction he was advancing, that his communications with Slater “occurred in his capacity as leader of the National party not as Prime Minister” is technically important, as he is not accountable to Parliament for the actions and behaviour of the National Party.

            However, not only did the Herald rightly describe his conduct as unbecoming, one could add Jesuitical, and it would be interesting if he were challenged to prove what he has claimed. Why he was he so often in conversation with the highly controversial and very much politicised Cameron Slater? Were they simply easy-going mates? Were matters in relation to politics and the useful targeting of individuals never an issue? Did John Key make a point of explaining, at each phone call, that he was ringing as leader of the National Party – not as Prime Minister? Moreover, as the Prime Minister is seemingly not sure whether he has ever phoned or sent a text to Slater on his government-supplied phone, political commentator John Armstrong is quite right to question “whether he should get away with determining which particular hat he is or was wearing at which particular time, and more so when the hat-switching is designed to get him off a very uncomfortable political hook.”

            But perhaps the most ominous move ahead is John Key’s personal campaign to get rid of the New Zealand flag. It’s an extraordinarily high-handed move for him to prioritise what he wants and to put the whole country through a costly, quite unnecessary exercise simply because, apparently, he wants to sever obvious links with a past which is the heritage of by far the majority of New Zealanders.

            For this reason, Key plans to inflict two expensive referenda on New Zealanders. Moreover, as long as he gets rid of what he rather insultingly dismisses as a “colonial relic” – the link to the Union Jack which binds us back through our forebears to the Britain from which most New Zealanders come, he doesn’t seem to mind what the alternative is. The government has to date simply ignored five referenda mounted by New Zealanders themselves. But when it suits John Key personally to have one – well then, we will have one, whether we like it or not….which many consider a disgraceful state of affairs.

            What is he actually up to? Previously a piece of plant, the silver fern was fine by him – and the Canadian maple leaf was invoked by others also anxious to remove any reference to the country to which, through our own links to those who came before us, we owe so much – even though this was also a highly controversial move in Canada. As one correspondent put it: “Our flag is about us as a people (not a plant) and recalls our long, multifaceted history which incorporates books and poetry, antiquity, and tales of kings and queens, olden day nursery rhymes and music, and, yes, battles won and lost…”

            If there’s one “colonial relic” we should long ago have got rid of it is the out-dated Treaty of Waitangi whose existence has been misused and abused, and whose intent has been distorted and reinvented. It is now the basis of arguably fraudulent claims to a government which has no problem strongly supporting a highly white-washed and inauthentic version of pre-European history in this country… and which encourages racial divisiveness.

            Why is removing the links with our past so important to a man apparently determined to avert his gaze from the very real threat to New Zealanders from the influx of far wealthier would-be emigrants – predominately Communist Chinese – whose inflow other Western countries are now taking steps to restrict, to protect their own people? Canada, for example, by no means alone, has closed a controversial immigration programme popular among rich Chinese, allowing them to virtually buy permanent residencies. The Prime Minister apparently has no intention of protecting New Zealanders, or of taking on board the fact that any immigration policy should safeguard the interests of the people of the country. The closing of doors elsewhere means that we New Zealanders will be even more at risk of having our farmland, our strategic assets, our businesses and our homes gobbled up by those who can outbid New Zealanders any day – and the largest exodus in history of wealthy Chinese both fleeing charges of corruption and anxious to escape a polluted environment means New Zealand will be an increasingly popular target.

            The sell-out of the Crafar farms, deliberately structured so that New Zealanders could not buy them individually, and the bid for Lochinver Station, are merely the beginning of what many regard as the betrayal of New Zealanders’ own interests. The push to grab New Zealand land is ongoing, with trusts, corporations and companies joining in. Moreover, the ongoing closing down of shops in towns all over the country raises urgent questions about what is happening.

            It may suit John Key to disparage our colonial heritage, and our links to the Commonwealth – but in many quarters this is regarded as a betrayal of those we should be honouring. One wonders if Key’s preference would be, rather than the stars of the Southern Cross, the five yellow stars of the Chinese flag, the large gold star symbolising Communism, the four smaller stars representing the social classes of the people…

            Certainly, our Prime Minister seems to have no problem with accommodating, with no obvious protest from our government, the repressive and cruel policies China’s autocratic rulers inflict on its people. The sad, crushed face of Uighur academic IIam Tohti at his trial on separatist charges in China’s Xinjiang region, a brave man now sentenced to life in prison for daring to speak up for the rights of his ethnic minority, has, shockingly, evoked no protest at all from John Key’s government. Yet his wife was reportedly doubled over in anguish as she left the court, and a particularly cruel, unusual “draconian confiscation of all his personal property” has been described by his lawyer as totally unacceptable and unfair. Beijing – no surprises there “has moved to squash any online discussion of the topic” and blocked his name as a search item on China’s largest social media sites.

            And what does New Zealand do? In spite of world-wide criticism of his shocking case, our present political ruler makes no public protest at all on our behalf. Apparently all China’s oppression of its own citizens is fine by us.

                        We are faced with three more years of being dominated by a self-willed individual virtually presiding over his party, and therefore the country. And as Australian Emeritus Professor David Flint points out, when John Key decided that he personally wanted a change of flag, he decided to require New Zealanders to vote which of several new designs they would prefer – (or find less obnoxious) – to choose from.

            Only then are we to have a second, money-wasting referendum to put this design up against our own flag. However, it would have been far more legitimate to ask New Zealanders whether or not they even want to change the flag. We can guarantee that in the months until the time we vote to retain the flag that means a lot to so many, as David Flint points out, a great deal of money to be spent on advertising will be authorised by the government to persuade New Zealanders to choose an alternative. If Key is defeated in his purpose, he will have to explain to New Zealanders why he has wasted their time, their energy and their money. He will not be anxious to do so.

            The message needs to go back to the Prime Minister…that he is overstepping the mark; that he should stop insulting our colonial heritage – that he should be honouring it instead. And the media should be pressing him on what is his real agenda?

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© Amy Brooke