Flag poll, flagpole, or down the plughole?

So Henry VIII, of the six wives, composer of Greensleeves, ‘Bluff King Hal’, has just been voted the worst monarch in history. Seriously? Fattest: quite possibly. But worst? In history too. In what other areas could someone be worst? Perhaps Richard III was the worst monarch in York; Ethelred the Unready the worst in Nantwich or something. I assumed this was a poll of British monarchs – wrongly, as it turned out. Among world monarchs, Genghis Khan and Ivan the Terrible will be mightily relieved.

Of course, Ivan was far from terrible. The original Russian word grozny means awe-inspiring rather than murderous and vicious, and apart from the odd massacre here and there, he ought to be remembered as a patron of the arts and trade and a good diplomat. A great bunch of lads, in other words. Perhaps when English speakers called him ‘terrible’, they were thinking of people who tell risqué jokes at dinner parties, or wear day-glo bow ties and gargle prosecco at funerals. “That Ivan, y’ know, he’s so terrible, isn’t he?”

Speaking of terrible, I was rather impressed with shocked by teenage King Eadwig, who scuttled off in the midst of his coronation in 955 and was found by an outraged archbishop enjoying the delights of a young noblewoman, and her mother! He may have died in mysterious circumstances just four years later, but young Eady had clearly managed to pack a life’s worth of scandal and intrigue into one very brief reign.

Eadwig: filthy fella
Eadwig: filthy fella

Of course, Elizabeth I ended up getting the plaudits for best monarch. Let’s ignore her rather authoritarian crushing of dissent. One victim, who had written a critical pamphlet of Her Majesty and had “the hand that wrote it cut off”, promptly doffed his cap with his other hand and said sarcastically “God save the Queen!” I suppose she ought to be credited for beating off the Spanish Armada, at least. Yet weighing up and somehow measuring the strengths and weaknesses of one monarch from one era over another all seems a bit pointless. Indeed, most such polls and lists devised by committee tend to be. And it me made me think about the increasingly shambolic way New Zealand is going about trying to find a new flag, let alone if it even wants to make the change.

I would like to change the flag. I’d better get that off my chest first. I also think Labour’s opposition to this process could certainly be seen as a little disingenuous in that regard. Any process of change would cost money (all the citizen-initiated referenda we have had over the years have had a multi-million dollar cost to run them), and I think Labour’s criticism of the timing is odd too. If not now, when? Petitions to change the flag have been around a long time. I don’t even begrudge it being John Key’s legacy. Helen Clark’s legacy was a minimum wage, Working for Families and Kiwisaver (I credit Kiwibank to Jim Anderton). I know which of the two legacies will make a real difference to most Kiwis’ lives.

My preference has always been for the silver fern on a black background (as was John Key’s preference initially). It is as quintessentially Kiwi as the Canadian maple leaf. It has acted as an unofficial de facto NZ flag for a long time, without the specific cultural connotations of the Union Jack or Tino Rangatiratanga. I also do not (or at least, did not) subscribe to the argument that it is too ‘rugby’. NZ World War graves are adorned with the fern, and it is just as proudly worn by Kiwi netballers, cricketers, Olympic athletes and so on.

So I was nonplussed then to see that it was not included in the final four. Indeed, three of the final four look suspiciously like a crappy compromise on the classic silver fern; a sort of garish Weetbix packet-esque fusion of the fern and the Southern Cross, or a hideous black-and-white affair that looks like a photographic negative of the silver fern. And whaddya know, they are crappy compromises. For the NZRU, custodian of the nation’s hearts and minds, waded into the whole flag maul with lawyers in tow and refused to allow the Flag Commission permission to use their trademarked fern. Excuse me? How on earth can one trademark a long-standing national symbol, which the All Blacks adopted and not the other way round?

Think Weetbix.
Think Weetbix.
Idiot! You supplied the negative instead of the actual image. Oh...
Idiot! You supplied the negative instead of the actual image. Oh…

And there was I, defending the fern from the anti-rugby crowd, while the boofheaded bumclowns at the NZRU go and prove me wrong. So while the precious All Blacks brand is preserved, we are left with a Clayton’s clutch of uninspiring half-choices. It’s OK though, because McAwesome Hedgehog is OK with the Weetbix fern, and it’s time for a change and a sportsman’s opinion. Hey guys: best of luck in the W*rld C*p, as always, but I sure hope the Beehive team announcement, the flag photocall and the premature talk of Sir Richie or Richie MP isn’t some grandiose hubris swirling around the Champions of the World™.

So what’s left? An act of defiance. I’m going for the koru option. It’s about the closest we’ll ever get to incorporating Maori flag design, it’s simple enough for any patriotic kid to draw, and it is utterly unlike any other flag on the planet. Give it time, New Zillund.

It might well be a monkey butt, but it’s our monkey butt.