PM should ponder the Orwellian switch to the farmhouse

George Orwell is one of my favourite authors. 1984 is, of course, his most famous work but to my mind the simplicity and truth of Animal Farm makes it a superior work in the way it explores the corrupting nature of power.

I've been thinking of Animal Farm a lot this week as I watched the prime minister dance on the ever-shrinking head of a pin to justify John Banks continuing as a minister of the Crown.

In 2008 Opposition leader John Key was, like Orwell's pig Napoleon, leading the charge against dishonesty and deceit in political life, particularly in regards to campaign donations.

His decision to categorically rule out Winston Peters as a coalition partner because the NZ First leader misled the house over donations from millionaire Owen Glenn was a high-risk masterstroke which did much to give National the moral high ground and victory in that campaign.

Four years on, Key, like Napoleon, has moved into the farmhouse where it would seem two legs (or a bit of lying over campaign donations) is now OK.

Certainly Banks has not been prosecuted for lying about the Dotcom donations, but then again, police didn't take action against Peters over the Glenn money or Labour over the pledge card.

What Banks did do was lie to the country while he was a minister of the Crown.

Signed statements clearly show Banks knew about the deceit around the mayoral donations when Dotcom was jailed but two months later told the nation he didn't.

Key can bang on all he likes about legality, prosecutions, the Labour Party and different people's interpretations of events but the facts do not change. A man he accepts as a minister (albeit outside cabinet) has had no hesitation in lying to the country and, though Key has his fingers in his ears and his eyes shut, he is prime minister.

Technicalities, obfuscation and avoidance will not alter the fact that the voting public have made up their mind on that issue and Key's moral and ethical compass is now as compromised as Helen Clark's was in her final months in power.

What I find very curious, is why?

It seems unthinkable that John Banks, stripped of his ministerial title, would cross the house and throw his lot in with the Labour and the Greens.

If he were to resign his seat National could be confident of winning a by-election in Epsom, and its position in Parliament would actually become more secure.

Might it simply be that Key doesn't want to back down?

That the hubris of power has finally got to him and, despite the overwhelming evidence and clear public opinion, the prime minister has, like his predecessor, convinced himself that he knows best.

Orwell put it like this: "No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be more than happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions comrades, and then where would we be?"

Banks' credibility is no longer the issue that has been damaged beyond repair. The big question mark hangs over the credibility of Key and whether he can deliver on his promise to demand higher ethical standards in his government than Labour did before him.

That a shady internet millionaire facing extradition on alleged copyright and money laundering charges can come to Parliament and lecture Key on corruption, suggests that for now the answer is ''no''.

For voters who backed National in 2008, perhaps abandoning their traditional allegiances to do so, that must come as a bitter disappointment and is more politically damaging than any brouhaha Key has been involved in since taking office.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the whole sordid affair is the acceptance or disinterest shown by a large proportion of the public.

"All politicians lie" seems to be a common reaction, suggesting we accept deceit and denial as part of our political system.

I, for one, would like to think we can aim a little higher but, for now, more than sixty years after it was first published, George Orwell's Animal Farm hits the nail on the head.

"No question now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

The Dominion Post