Friday 18 November 2011

Two's Company ...

Crowded Out: Act's leader, Dr Don Brash, who might have been expected to be included in this very public tea party, was actually one of the main topics of John Key's and John Banks' now notorious conversation - and not in a good way.

THE AMERICAN HUMOURIST, Mark Twain, once described a conspiracy as “nothing but a secret agreement of a number of men for the pursuance of policies which they dare not admit in public.” Generally speaking, voters are wary of politicians who agree privately to do things they’re too scared to announce publicly. What am I saying? “Wary” simply doesn’t do the voters’ feelings justice. “Mistrustful” would be a better word; “Suspicious” better still. Which is why, if the Prime Minister, John Key, hasn’t allowed the news media to reveal the contents of the notorious “teapot tape” by the time this column is printed, then he’s a damn fool.

But, even assuming he has relented, and everyone now knows exactly what transpired in Newmarket’s Café Urban  between the Prime Minister and Act’s Epsom candidate, John Banks, chances are the true victim of these wily politicians’ tête-à-tête is only slowly grasping his role in the larger conspiracy animating the National-Act tea-party.

Several months ago, at an undisclosed location (but you can be fairly sure it wasn’t Newmarket’s Café Urban ) a number of men and women came together to plot the overthrow of Rodney Hide. At the centre of the plot was the former Reserve Bank Governor and National Party leader, Dr Don Brash, who was convinced that when it came to keeping the National-led Government on the straight-and-narrow neoliberal path he was the only man for the job.

Dr Brash, you’ll recall, had been commissioned by the Prime Minister to lead a taskforce dedicated to closing the wages-gap with Australia. The good doctor’s hard-line neoliberal prescription for lifting New Zealand’s productivity did not, however, impress the Prime Minister, who more-or-less dismissed Dr Brash’s recommendations out-of-hand. Not surprisingly, Dr Brash felt slighted.

His mood was not improved when Rodney Hide’s perk buster reputation was forced to die for love, and David Garrett’s youthful enthusiasm for Frederick-Forsyth-inspired cloak-and-daggering transformed Act from what Dr Brash had fondly hoped would be an invaluable ideological thorn in the Government’s side, to an embarrassing whoopee-cushion under the Neoliberal Establishment’s bottom.

“Hell, I could do better than that!”, mused the Good Doctor, and then proceeded to prove himself wrong.

Dr Brash’s fatal error was to invite Auckland’s former Mayor and National’s former Police Minister, John Banks, to step into the soon-to-be-deposed Rodney Hide’s shoes as Act’s Epsom candidate. Now, the hapless Dr Brash claims to have known Mr Banks for years and years and years, yet in all that time he’s somehow missed the rather important fact that his bosom friend and business partner is an outrageous right-wing populist in the mould of Sir Robert Muldoon. Just how outrageous Dr Brash would soon discover when he mused in public about decriminalising marijuana.

Only then, I suspect, did Dr Brash become vaguely aware of the trap into which his eagerness to rehabilitate Act had led him. Far from becoming a rallying beacon for the neoliberal cognoscenti of the libertarian Right, Act was just an election-day away from reverting to what it had been under the unsentimental leadership of Richard Prebble: a repository for every red-necked, right-wing crackpot who ever ran a small business or operated a dairy farm on what had once been Maori land.

The meeting in the Café Urban: that much bally-hooed “cup of tea” featuring the Prime Minister and John Banks; it would, of course, send a message to “the good people of Epsom” about the desirability of giving “that nice Mr Key’s” government a reliable coalition partner; but that wouldn’t be the only message it sent. To those who knew how to read the tea-leaves in the bottom of the two Johns’ teacups, it also signalled that the electoral alliance being forged was not between conservatives and neoliberals, it was between the centre-right and the far-right. Between the genial and urbane Mr Key and the aggressive and provincial Mr Banks.

Why wasn’t Dr Brash invited to that much-hyped photo-op? Because as soon as the votes of “the good people of Epsom” have been counted, the members of Act’s Board will be holding an election of their own. And when those votes have been counted, Dr Brash will almost certainly find himself joining Mr Hide and Mr Prebble in the Ex-Leaders of Act Club.

Yep, the two Johns have played Dr Brash – and the country – like a guitar.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 18 November 2011.


Anonymous said...

What an enjoyable read.
If ever there was an example of the pen being mightier than the sword, this is it.
Your prose is simply bubbling with eloquent descriptive text that exposes, by comparison, the lesser-skilled opponents of National/Act as envy-driven ideologues of an ugly left.
The whoopee-cushion analogy is priceless.
Of my countless visits to your blog, this has been the most rewarding.

Kat said...

And then Banks was going to take over Hides job as local government minister once inside the Brand Key tent. Banks would then be pissing outside and all over Len Brown.

Yes revenge is a powerful motivator and this failed plot will ultimately see the Brand Key dog that has now bitten its best friend the mainstream media receive its due punishment, whether in government or not.

Brendan McNeill said...

Dr Brash's recent comments about decriminalizing marijuana demonstrated to those of us who believe there is a place for the ACT party in the NZ political spectrum, how inept and incapable he is as a politician.

He may well have been an excellent Reserve Bank Governor, but he has no sense of political reality at all.

John Banks however should be a poster child of the political Left. He was the son of two back street abortionists, who spent a good deal of time in prison for their activities. As a result, he was put into a foster care family with a dozen other children, and experienced real poverty growing up.

He sold empty bottles and worked menial jobs after school until eventually he became a successful business man and politician.

John Banks, like John Key is an example of how extreme poverty and family dysfunction need not be a handicap to future success in life.

I doubt either of these men spent a great deal of emotional energy complaining about the hand that life had dealt them, or indulged in blaming others for their circumstances, or accepted defeat before they gave something a try.

Yes, the welfare State was there for both of them when they needed it, but they refused to be defined by their disadvantaged background, and have gone on to become net contributors to society, regardless of what you may think of their politics.

The Left should be highlighting the benefits that the welfare state provides by pointing to its positive impact upon the lives these two men.

Dr Brash is unsupportable, but I'd give John the benefit of the doubt if I lived in Epsom.

Mark Wilson said...

As the polls show this is a matter of navel gazing and wishful thinking by the left - the voters see it as the beat up that it is. The real scandal is the left's claim that unlawful behaviour is OK if it is to their advantage. Roll on Saturday week and we will see how well the public regards the press and the left.
The amazing part is that while the left have been beating this up as much as possible, including yourself on Radio NZ yesterday, it has allowed the right to shut down any debate on policies which would have been the lefts only chance to recover some ground.It is true that some aspects of Labours policies are superior to Nationals and there is advantage to be gained there rather than proving for a second election in a row that personal attacks on Key are suicidal.
It is inarquable that a large part of the population is not intellectually capable of making anything close to an informed decision on politics, especially where finance is involved but shutting down the debate a week from voting to try and nail Key is beyond dumb.

Mark Wilson said...

Four points -
1- this whole affair is a media / lefty beat up that, as shown by the polls, has no resonance with the public.It is outrageous that the left claim the actions of secretly taping a private conversation were OK - talk about situational ethics!
2 - Thanks to a huge effort by the media and the left to smear Key on this issue it has allowed the right to shut down all debate on policy. Some aspects of Labour's policy are superior to Naitonals but as this drags into next week the left's chances go down the drain.
3 - At the last leaders debate next week Goff will continue with Labour's tactics of smearing Key that failed in the previous election under Clark and are sending them backwards in the polls at this one. How many defeats will it take before they learn their lesson? The one party that has not gone after Key on a personal basis are the Greens who are polling like gangbusters. Dumb and Dumber.
4 - It is inarguable that the majority of potential voters are intellectually incapable of a competent analysis of most major political issues, particularly involving financial matters, and it is insane for one party to provide a circus to distract the peasants to the advantage of the other.
I would also be prepared to bet that this will not effect Keys popularity in the future as you claim it will.

Victor said...

"an embarrassing whoopee-cushion under the Neoliberal Establishment’s bottom."

I could die happy had I written such a phrase!


Guerilla Surgeon said...

I'm torn. If Epsom elects Banks I can't help thinking they deserve him.

Victor said...

Mark Wilson

Key had carried all before him because, inter alia, the media loves him.

Now the media no longer loves him.

He will probably retain office this time around. But it will be a new ballgame.

Who knows? People might even start judging National by its policies and their outcomes.

Anonymous said...

Even as a sharp keys only three chord trick exponent Chris you owe the guitar more than that.

If you like i will fax the chords for "Tea for two " to your retirement home.


Anonymous said...


In the penultimate act, the preceeding hilararious farce subsides and the hapless Sir Donald H. Andbasinundies-Ganja esq, serial adulterer and corned Beefeater to the Order of Senile Dorks, is despatched by the lunatic Bankzi to the asylum of Dead Baby Snatchers and Scumfourth Labtraitors, but this was always predictable. There is far less drama than dribbling pathos in this plot line, and the audience is lulled into a false sense of inevitability.

But the denouement is an absolute cracker: without giving the game away, audiences will both cringe and cry at the unexpected twists from outer left field and beyond: expect the totally unexpected and be prepared to both laugh and howl.
Hearwarming and hilarious beyond words.

A stunning production from the mistress of suspense, ably directed by handled by newcomers to the stage taking the roles of KY Jelly, The ACThorroid Extras, Jackoff Joice and Mauler Benfitte; minor line lapses eclipsed by superb performances from seasoned local veterans as Winsome Warrior, Dunng Beetle, Peter Bluntles and Mary St Helen.

Don't miss it. Well worth the $15 ANZ.


Anonymous said...

Didn't John Banks adopt three Russian orphans?

I'd give him the benefit of the doubt based on his actions rather than the rhetorical socialism of many Labour politicians who do nothing but talk about 'making a difference'.

Frank said...

ACT’s need for the photo-op between the Two Johns is hypocrisy in the extreme.

Not too long ago, ACT’s Rodney Hide rejected any idea of Maori Seats on the new Supercity Auckland Council. According to ACT, Maori were expected to wins seats on the Council on merit alone.

“Maori Must Earn Auckland Seats On Merit – By Guest Author Denise Cameron

…There are lots of different ethnic groups with representatives in Parliament, on City Councils and as Mayors – who all got there on merit, not as a gift. Let our people do it the same way. Some individual at the Hikoi said that [having Maori representatives on the new Auckland Council] was our right under the Treaty.Let our bright boys and girls EARN their seats, I say…” –

Like ACT is trying to win the seat of Epsom on “merit” alone? With a “political subsidy” from National?

Oh dear. Never mind. ACT will be goneburger the day after 26 November…

… which in itself raises new problems for the Left. Activists from a dead political party have a habit of colonising other parties and becoming factions within.

Jeremy Bowen said...

Two's company, three's a crowd but 4 1/2 million that's fun.

Anonymous said...

I can not help but be struck by the folly National has shown over the Epsom electorate. Not only did they choose to stand a candidate when they did not want to win, but chose one with a name like "Goldsmith". I cannot think of any other surname that would render a more intoxicating emotional magnetism upon the burghers of Epsom on election day. If Goldsmith had been named something they found distasteful like "Union" or "Red" then Banks would have had it in the bag.

Anonymous said...

Poor old Don Brash – yesterday’s man singing from the day before’s sheet music. Despite his claims to the contrary he must now know that Banks has well and truly slipped his collar and is only a general election away from going feral on him.

Still Brash only has himself to blame, and while I am an atheist the bible often has a succinct way of summing situations like these up, and Don must be thinking about swords, and how people live and die by them.

I am no fan of Rodney Hide; however only the most mean spirited amongst us wouldn’t like to think that Rodders isn’t somewhere quietly chuckling over his cup of tea.

Chris - I heard you on Kerre Woodhams show this morning, and I can confirm that the other panel member was without question implying that the taping of Gordon Browns comments were somehow less of an issue because Brown was so terribly unpopular and wasn’t going to win the then upcoming British election anyway. I think in the end even she realised just how untenable her position was.

What a few days it has been. Banks becoming increasingly shriller and more hysterical with every passing hour about having a ‘cup of tea’ with the Prime Minister (including wild eyed appeals for same to any journalist within throwing distance of a teapot). This all in light of the fact that it was growing ever more likely that that the good people of Epsom were about to hand Banks his hat electorally speaking. One minute you can’t stop Banks from talking, the next he gets his cuppa and it all goes tits up and he’s back to his wild eyed ways but this time trying to avoid the journalists!

This election campaign really has shown that Key is as shallow as a bird bath. I’m sure that he thought he was going to sleepwalk back to power. He was caught out spectacularly about his comments concerning the potential downgrading of New Zealand’s credit rating if any government other that a National one was returned to power, and his backtracking was petulant(remember “dunno, wasn’t there”).
Keys comparison of “teagate” to the News of the World scandal and a dead teenage British schoolgirl was just ghastly.

Keys justification that “they” have reduced crime in New Zealand and the police have some spare capacity to look into what is a relatively trivial complaint is astonishing. Isn’t it marvellous to know that police personnel up and down the country are hovering over their phones just desperate for someone to call and give them something to do!

All this at the same time that Key is telling Epsom voters to vote for Banks, even though he and the National candidate Goldsmith, who both live in the electorate, won’t be.

So there we have it. One week out from an election, the country is fascinated by two Johns having a cuppa. Key tells us that the police haven’t got enough to do (when not going after journo’s) so presumably have time to enjoy a cuppa, and (cue ominous music) Winston Peters walks amongst us again because he has sufficiently rattled his supporters enough by gossiping over the cuppas.

Keys only saving grace is the public seem to hold journalists in even greater contempt than they do politicians.

Dare I say it, John Tea still seems to be winner on the day.

Anonymous said...

Yep, the two Johns have played Dr Brash – and the country – like a guitar.

Incompetently as it turned out.

Attempting to finger a nice little augmented chord they missed and sounded a flat thirteenth.

Victor said...


Can I book using my debit card or do I have to use real money?

RobertM said...

Right on, Chris. Superb political analysis. But John Bank's isn't quite from the same mould as Rob Muldoon. Rather it was Muldoon's final act of contempt against the National Party, making Banks a National MP. Rather like making Warren Cooper-Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade or his fellow race horse owner Colin McLauchlan,Minister of Transport.
Muldoon would have thought making Bank's the candidate MP for New Zealands richest and most educated electorate a particulary wicked and cruel joke.