John Key is the News Villain of the Week

News Villain John Key. Graphic / Mike Vose
News Villain John Key. Graphic / Mike Vose

John Key's response to the refugee crisis isn't joke-worthy. However, the flag finalists are a kind of sick joke and must be stopped. Can a hero arise?

John Key’s opponents often paint him as a kind of supervillain. In their minds, he's a megalomaniac intent on selling New Zealand to the first passing banker. Shonkey. He of the TPPA and Dirty Politics. An evil Laser Kiwi, ravaging New Zealand with his ray gun eyes.

It never sticks, because it never really feels true. Real people don’t oscillate between hamming it up for selfies with their children and acting like baddies in Die Hard movies. Caricatured malevolence is hard to prove, mainly because people sense it’s too simple to be accurate.

One criticism is harder to dismiss: that Key is a man of little conviction. That in some sense, he remains a currency trader, always checking which way the numbers are shaping before opting to invest, his decisions shaped less by principle than whether they're aligned with the winning side.

That gels with his political strategy. Where other politicians push their agendas, Key inches forward with public opinion. He loathes spending political capital for no reward, and only moves after checking which way the wind is blowing.

Sometimes that’s okay. This week it wasn’t. In the face of the worst refugee crisis since World War II, Key wavered and prevaricated. It was his chance to show leadership, but he seemed to be busy doing the numbers.

There are important numbers in play here. Lebanon, which has roughly the same population as New Zealand, has taken 1.2 million refugees. Greece, which is pretty much bankrupt, has taken 240,000. We haven’t raised our refugee quota since 1987, when our population was 3.3 million. It's now 4.6 million. The last time the quota changed it actually went down - from 800 to 750 in 1997. There have been calls to raise it since long before this crisis erupted. We can do more. We should be doing more. There’s no need to figure out whether it’s popular to do the right thing.

This flag committee considered more than 10,000 designs. They endured the world’s most dispiriting road trip, sitting for hours in town hall meetings that attracted smaller audiences than a deranged street preacher.

At the end of all their suffering and toil, they stood before the nation to reveal their carefully considered choices. They picked the same flag twice, a design that may have hypnotised them into choosing it, and the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise logo.

It was depressing. I suggested responding with a ritual flag burning, or by drawing Laser Kiwi burning all the other flags on your ballot. But there is another way of rebelling against the mighty Fern. You can request a do-over.

Red Peak has a carefully considered meaning. It looks great in full flight.

But mainly it doesn’t have a silver fern smeared across it. Having it in the race would make this process feel less like a marketing campaign disguised as a democratic process. That’s enough to make it the first flag news hero.