by Don Franks
“A flag that unites all New Zealanders should be selected by all New Zealanders. This decision is bigger than party politics,” Key said.
Speaking today at Victoria University, Prime Minister John Key outlined his plans for a referendum on a new New Zealand flag, which would be held after the 2017 election.
When Key, a guy steeped in point-scoring party politics, recognises something bigger, that something must be pretty big.
Sensing this, Redline readers have been plying us with questions: here are a sample, with our replies.
Question: Why do we need a flag anyway?
Answer: We don’t. Well, not all of us.
Only a few of us need a flag. Flag manufacturers obviously, and the related trades of flagpole making, rope, metal fastenings. Officers in the military need a flag to help enforce discipline.
If there was nothing for other ranks to salute but overbearing overweight officers a lot of the glamour and mystique would go out of the war game. Saluting a symbol retains a little bit of the magic, especially when its a symbol that previous generations are said to have fought and died for.
Q. Did they really die for the flag?
A. No. They died trying to defend their families and possessions in the Land Wars, or because they were conscripted to fight for Western imperialist powers in Europe, the Middle East, Asia or the Pacific. Or because they were paid.
Or because they wanted to stop fascism, or because they saw an only chance of an exciting overseas adventure. Amongst all the thousands of young people who served in New Zealand armed forces, there may have been a few strange individuals who believed absolutely that the design of the flag was superior to the patterns and colours of other flags and the difference worth killing and dying for. Like gangs, armed forces are natural homes for those of such mentality.
Q. But if we didn’t have a flag, how could we tell New Zealand stuff apart from other countries?
A. Today we enjoy near universal literacy and modern communication technology. National flags first appeared to distinguish sailing ships at sea. Flags, like nation states, have not really been around for very long. Today, if we encounter another vessel at sea we can send it an email if we want to know where it’s from.
If anyone really wants to make clear that an export product comes from New Zealand they can always write “Made in New Zealand” on it, with a pretty fair expectation that will take care of the matter.
Q. But might not a distinctive New Zealand flag help market our produce?
A. Well, it’s not “our produce”. Goods from New Zealand are made by workers’ labour-power and taken by capitalists to be sold for the benefit of the capitalists, but I guess that’s another story. However, marketing doesn’t need flags.
All sorts of idiotic symbols are used to push New Zealand goods and services: ferns, kiwis, buzzy bees, jandals, ripped off Maori artwork. Not that we care much, but some contrived new symbol on top of that would not assist. It would first require marketing itself.
Q. At the end of the day doesn’t it all come back to what John Key said – “A flag that unites all New Zealanders”
A. Ha ha. Good one.
What, you’re serious?
I see, you’re a new Redline reader. Welcome to the site. What you will never see here, anywhere, except in jest, is commentary arguing anything for “all New Zealanders”.
Capitalist parties, like New Zealand First, National, Labour, Greens etc always encourage the concept of “all New Zealanders” because it spreads the myth that rich and poor share similar interests. That “our” system is fair to all, so poor people ought not be discontent or seek to change the system. Redline recognises that New Zealand is made up of different classes, with fundamentally different class interests. We’re on the side of the working class, who we want to eventually prevail.
Q. Yes, that’s ok up to a point but, look, you can take that theory way too far. I mean all Kiwis have some basic things in common – we all like to go to the beach and that doesn’t cost anything.
A. Manurewa South school in South Auckland can tell you different. They have a saying “there is life beyond the dairy” because many of their kids have never experienced life outside their small local community. Because families are rooted in poverty or lack time. Many parents work multiple jobs and look after large families, making it almost impossible to provide important life experiences to their children. Other children are raised by struggling solo parents or grandparents.
“Most of our parents, just to pay bills, are working two jobs,” Principal Tone Kolose says. “Most of them don’t have time to take (their kids) to the beach or take them to the zoo. That is why they don’t do it.”
Q. Shit. Maybe sorting out that rotten deprivation is more important than angsting over a national flag.