Why John Key's backdown on the teapot tapes is a bigger deal than you think video

KEVIN STENT/FAIRFAX NZ

Prime Minister John Key defends the use of taxpayer money to settle defamation proceedings

OPINION: Anyone who thinks John Key's backdown over the teapot tapes isn't a huge deal to him personally clearly can't have been on the election trail at the time.

Key's temper is slow to the boil and the teapot tapes bombshell was the first time any of us who followed his political career had seen him truly angry.

There is only one other occasion during which most of us can recall Key really losing his rag like he did over the teapot tapes and that was a whole election campaign later, the day after Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics landed.

John Key and John Banks at Auckland's Urban Cafe where the infamous "teapot tape" recording was made
FAIRFAX NZ

John Key and John Banks at Auckland's Urban Cafe where the infamous "teapot tape" recording was made

Key's clipped answers to questions on Monday about his legal settlement with cameraman Bradley Ambrose is an indication of just how deep his feelings still run over the teapot tape saga.

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A recap for those who have moved on since the 2011 election and may have only a hazy recollection of the event.

Ambrose recorded a conversation between Key and Epsom candidate John Banks at Auckland's Urban cafe - inadvertently, according to Ambrose, and deliberately, according to Key.

In a settlement thrashed out between the pair with their lawyers on Sunday, Key agreed to a cash payout, and a statement accepting Ambroses version of events, and admitting he was wrong. Ambrose for his part accepts that Key genuinely believed at the time that the recording was deliberate, even if he now accepts that was wrong.

But even now, five years on, an apology to Ambrose remains a step too far. Key's statement does not say sorry, and he repeatedly refused to apologise when pressed on Monday.

It seems paying Ambrose out of his own pocket may also be too much for Key to swallow. Taxpayers are picking up some or all of the bill for the settlement, including legal costs.

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Mystery always surrounded Key's obvious fury over the recording ending up in Ambroses hands.

While Key and Banks thought they were having a private conversation, it took place during an orchestrated media event in front of a huge number of journalists and cameras, some of them only feet away. It seemed inexplicable that they might have strayed into areas that were either so controversial, or so private, that Key was prepared to move heaven and earth to keep the recording secret. But he refused to back down even after a police complaint resulted in the sight of media offices being raided.

When the recording later emerged it seems that the simplest explanation was also the right one since there was nothing particularly inflammatory about the conversation. Key was genuinely angry and affronted.

So take this week's settlement for what it is, a tactical withdrawal by Key who doesn't want the affair dragged through the courts, especially after it seemed Ambrose would receive sufficient support through a crowd funding campaign to pay his legal bills.

But at best it's an agreement between the two key players to agree to disagree.

That it took five years for Key to even reach that point speaks volumes.

 - Stuff

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