I want to talk about an election that was between an outdated battle-axe, a symbol of old times, of privilege and oppression, versus a tea towel, a come from nowhere upstart with no history, a hobbled together cluster of ideas, both vying for the top job. I want to talk about an election where voting was based for the most part driven by rejection, the desire not to see the other party win.
I’m talking about the New Zealand flag referendum. New Zealand has had the same flag for about a century and it’s a flag with a lot of problems. It looks almost exactly like the Australian flag, it has the Union Jack on it despite being independent of England. It’s blue, It’s boring, and we represent ourselves using other symbols for the most part – the silver fern or the kiwi.
Or Prime Minister took it as a job to change it so he set up a referendum. The story is this change would be his legacy so the referendum was set up to maximise the chance of change. A call for flags was issued and a panel selected four to go to a vote. Problems started there because a public petition added a fifth. Whichever won the first round would go head to head for the second. The result, a bland, unpopular flag that was technically sound but for many was considered more deserving of a tea towel. In the end a choice between two unsatisfactory candidates, the vote (old flag winning) seemingly decided by a desire to deny the other victory.
There’s nothing that says a democracy is broken as much as voters being left between two unpleasant choices. Democracy is more than just the vote, it’s the system that allows that vote to be used effectively. When all that’s left to vote of is the lesser of two evils. Look to the system.
Is democracy working for you?