How long will Key continue backing Banks?

Last updated 12:16 02/08/2012

You can take it from John Key that John Banks has acted lawfully and behaved in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards. Because that is the standard that ministers are expected to uphold. Otherwise it is outski, on yer bike, or down the river in a cabbage boat.

So it follows that when Banks said publicly (as a minister) that he kept the funding of his mayoral campaign ''at arm's length'' he was adhering to those lofty ethical standards, in the judgment of the prime minister.

Never mind that the police found that Banks had solicited donations from Kim Dotcom and from an unnamed donor for radio advertisements and had accepted in person, in a sealed envelope, a $15,000 cheque from SkyCity's chief executive.

Though it stretches credulity, that, apparently, qualifies as ''at arm's length''.

Bill English yesterday set out the two tests being applied to Banks' ongoing role as a minister:

1) The police had decided not to prosecute, and 2) he retained the confidence of Key.

What is not clear is how he both adhered to the ''highest ethical standard'' and through his actions highlighted that the local electoral law - in Key's words -  was "an ass" that you could drive a truck through.

After all, it was Banks at the wheel of the truck that barrelled through it.

Just how long Key will retain confidence in Banks is anyone's guess.

It's probably sensible to let the ACT board, or Banks himself, make the call given he is expected to signal well before the 2014 election that he is not interested in another term.

If he stood aside earlier, triggering a quick and tidy by-election in Epsom, the Government's majority (without the Maori Party) could be restored in short order.

But it is dangerous for any prime minister to defend an MP under a cloud, especially when that MP's vote is key to survival.

Helen Clark suffered from not cutting Taito Phillip Field loose earlier. She also stood by Winston Peters when the tide of public opinion was flowing the other way.

Last term Key may have been able to tough out the fallout from the Banks scandal, but times have changed.

The first Fairfax Media/Ipsos political poll showed the public mood beginning to sour on Key - a trend that has its origins in his handling of the Teapot Tapes and that infamous cuppa with Banks.

Key will also be assessing his future coalition options after 2014.

A terminally wounded ACT is not in National's interest.

It would much prefer that the party either thrives, and re-establishes its core liberal principles, or goes.

The field on the conservative Right is already crowded, with the Conservatives, and to a lesser extent NZ First, fishing in a limited pool of voters.

Unless one of them slings his hook, there is a risk none will cross the 5 per cent MMP threshold.

Yes, Key is defending Banks for now. But he is far from indispensable.

Follow Vernon Small on Twitter.

120 comments
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chris   #1   12:28 pm Aug 02 2012

Such high ranking members of the silly handshake society have free reign to basically do as they please with no repurcussions. Fotunately for Mr. Banks, he has this privlegde so can expect eternal support from our great leader !!

Graham   #2   12:40 pm Aug 02 2012

Banks is 'dodgy as' its plain enough for anyoe to see, he'll do and say whatever it takes to stay sunny side up. The unfortunate throw back to this is anyone seen to associate with him will get tared with the same brush and Key standing by him is making him loose credability. I'm not a key/National supporter but State Asset Sales aside he does come across as a good guy with integrity but Banks is making him look a fool.

Cnut   #3   12:47 pm Aug 02 2012

How can you possible suggest that John Key's support or otherwise of Banks is related to National's political view as to the desireability of supporting or losing ACT and its support. The Cabinet Manual demands that Ministers "behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards", and did not Key himself promise us that he would set far higher standards for his ministers than had Labour?

Hence as Banks has neither resigned nor been sacked it follows that the sordid facts in this matter represent the highest ethical standards a Minister of the Crown can be expected to aspire to.

After all like Humpty-Dumpty in Wonderland politicians have absolutely no problem accepting that the words "highest ethical standards" mean exactly what they intend it to mean, regardless of what the rest of us thought it meant.

Alan_Wilkinson   #4   12:56 pm Aug 02 2012

I doubt there is much voter cross-over between the Conservative and ACT parties - except that Banks himself belongs in the Conservative party rather than ACT.

PD   #5   01:17 pm Aug 02 2012

Agree with you. The problem with right wing conservative party is they are grabbing voters who would normally vote national. Under Jim Bolger you had the typical white conservative male. A Farmer, Catholic, traditional family man. A guy that many of us can relate to. In John Key we have someone who is fiscially sound without being prepared to make hard calls. WFFTCs Interest free on student loans and Market rates on State Houses are policies that would see a clear shift to the right and while unpopular would also serve our long term economy well. Ironically socially he is very liberal. This is what gives the Conservatives and New Zealand first its platform. Peters anti gay marriage stance is to try and stop the conservative party having an issue that will propel it forward. Louisa Wall has handed the conservative party a lifeline. If they can capture the mantle of a traditional National Party economically, and promise to make some hard calls on retirement age and Interest Free on student loans, then they could provide another option. Trouble is like Winston Peter's anti immigration and Treaty views, they have baggage largely from Graham Capills old party. Whether Key's sees this as the lesser of two evils if he had to choose between them and Peters only he knows. Truely fascinating though.

munky   #6   01:20 pm Aug 02 2012

"Key will also be assessing his future coalition options after 2014."

Hmm, a rather naive and/or optimistic assessment - with any luck the Smiling Shyster will be gone long before then. Anyone for a snap election..? I think we need one.

Jim   #7   01:37 pm Aug 02 2012

Birds of a feather stick together.

Lou   #8   02:15 pm Aug 02 2012

Banks will stay as long as he supports Key's ego trip and his grip on power. Of course Banks belief in his own ability knows no bounds.

joanna_jo   #9   02:46 pm Aug 02 2012

John Key will back John Banks as long as it benefits John Key.

Talk about "peas in a pod"

Alan_Wilkinson   #10   03:01 pm Aug 02 2012

Here's a starter question for 10 points:

Which is more unethical: spending taxpayers' money to get elected or accepting an "anonymous" donation for the same purpose?


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