The defeat of the alternative flag is the end of an aura; John Key’s aura of invincibility. For the first time he has been revealed as a mortal Prime Minister.
I have to be fair – the vote was closer than I expected. A 56% vote to keep the current flag is not very conclusive. Still, you can be sure if the new flag won, it’s supporters, and John Key in particular, would be crowing. But they can’t.
John Key has failed to read the public correctly. He argued that the public wanted a change, and backed himself to be right.
He said in his flag referendum announcement speech
“I am proposing… a new flag.“
On that count, Key has tonight lost.
That was already clear in the first referendum, when less than half the nation voted. Ten percentage points of that were spoiled ballots – indicating only a third of New Zealand wanted a change. That number appears to have climbed in the second referendum.
John Key campaigned for the flag we voted on tonight, even if half-heartedly. Maybe he should have tried harder. Either way, a majority of New Zealanders didn’t agree with him.
On that count, Key has lost tonight.
The problem is not that Key proposed something the majority did not support.
The problem is that John Key’s power has stemmed from having his finger on the pulse of the nation, and the power to persuade the public.
The vote tonight has illustrated that Key and National can be offside with the majority.
Before now, it hasn’t been thought possible for Key to get the public wrong. Now that it is possible, it is more likely to happen again.