Let’s flag the important stuff now

Dear John, Easter is a time for forgiveness.

Well, that's what I tell the seams on my clothes as I stuff in another hot cross bun and a marshmallow eggs six-pack. (A scientific tip for those worried about Easter excess: break decadent morsels into pieces before you shove them in your gob; the calories leak out and cannot do any damage.)

I trust you have not been on an unhealthy Easter egg binge following the disappointment of the flag referendum result.

Forgive yourself, John. Yes, it was a silly process and people thought it cost too much, but it wasn't your entire fault, was it?

Sixty-two other Parliamentarians voted for the enabling legislation. Surely they can't all have been sucking up to you. Forgive yourself, but don't forget them.

While you are in forgiveness mode, ask your National Party supporters to forgive you for expecting them to cough up cash for your out-of-court settlement of the defamation action filed against you over the 2011 election campaign teapot tapes saga.

How annoying you couldn't get us taxpayers to pay for the whole thing out of the Leader's Budget, but at least it paid your lawyer's costs. Just as well we have not been able to find out how much or there would be more bellyaching from the great unwashed about that.

If I was up to my elbows in flour, whipping up some prize-winning baking for a National Party cake stall, I might pause to wonder if I had any fiscal responsibility for my leader hysterically running off at the mouth the way you did.

Did a party flunky advise you to say those things, comparing the cameraman's behaviour with that of the scurrilous News of the World? Presumably not, because you say the statements you made reflected your honestly held views at that time.

I might also wonder why it took you so long to accept the cameraman did not deliberately record the silly conversation you were having with that old duffer Banksy (after the media had been invited to show up for the occasion in a public cafe and then were shunted out).

Didn't the cameraman send a letter to you more than four years ago, explaining his situation and expressing regret?

You said a small amount of money was involved in the settlement. Your idea of small and mine might be a few cents apart. If it was a small amount, in your eyes, why couldn't you have taken responsibility for your loose lips and paid it yourself?

Wouldn't that make you look like a grown-up for once? At least it briefly took attention away from the flag fiasco.

I hope you are managing to turn that flag frown upside down. There's always a bright side.

Buy up the failures, put them through several hot washes to shrink them and you will have enough tea towels to last a lifetime. Bronagh is sure to be impressed.

What woman wouldn't be? Was it a frond too far to suggest the flag frippery involved a nationwide discussion about nationhood and what we stand for? What does a silver fern masquerading as a confused two-tone feather represent - poor artistic technique?

Still, it was refreshing to hear you say we shouldn't shy away from issues because they are contentious.

Can we expect you to front-foot some nationwide discussions on contentious issues and shell out a few million to support them? How about kicking off with one on dairying? How much is too much? Have we reached that point? Is it time we had a moratorium on dairy farm conversions?

Has it been a ghastly environmental gamble? Is it ethical to push infant formula in other countries when we have strict controls about the way it is marketed here, because we know breast-feeding is best? That could lead to a similar discussion about the place of tourism in our economy. Will too many tourists ultimately spoil what people come here to see?

Will tourism make us prosperous, or merely produce lots of low-paid workers? The late Sir Paul Callaghan put it like this: ‘‘The more tourism, the poorer we get. Tourism is a great industry, but it cannot be a route to prosperity.''

Was he right?Another topic could be information gathering. How comfortable are we about our data being mined in the name of better-targeted social services? Do we think the risk of our data being misused is too great?

How well are we being informed about all of this? Do you truly want contentious talk or should you always heed the advice of that famous writer Anon who says, ‘‘Keep your words soft and tender because tomorrow you may have to eat them''?

●Elspeth McLean is a Dunedin writer.

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