Toby Manhire 's Opinion

Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire: Banks does Brainfade Dave a favour

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It was a gift for Shearer from the MP for Epsom. What better way to make his foolishness look trifling?

Labour leader David Shearer. Photo / Getty Images
Labour leader David Shearer. Photo / Getty Images

The brain fade is back. That unforgettable theme of the last political year has seeped into 2013, with the fading brain this time belonging to David Shearer, who, we learn, had managed to overlook for four years a great wad of money sitting lonely in a US bank account. It's enough to make you wonder if the 20 tonnes of copper layered on top of the Beehive is affecting our MPs' memories the way a magnet does a credit card.

Who knows what was running through the Labour leader's head when he ducked into the parliamentary press gallery on Monday and chirped that, phew, he'd now added the account to the MPs' pecuniary interests register and hey-how-are-you-guys-and-what-about-those-Black-Caps-sweet-see-you-later-then. He'd have hoped they might chuckle, shake their heads, and leave it be. But he's no fool: that was always unlikely.

The revelation hurts Labour and hurts Shearer because it undermines their brain-fade attacks on ministers last year - especially with regard to Key and the GCSB's illegal surveillance of Kim Dotcom.

It hurts them because, like it or not, Labour is in a constant struggle to convince voters that it is an able steward of the economy. And it hurts them, most of all, because Shearer's great and trumpeted virtue is meant to be a knack - unlike, say, Goff or Cunliffe - for the relatable, ordinary-guy stuff. Even better, he could trump Key because he had none of that currency-trader millionaire backstory. There's nothing ordinary about having a sizeable overseas account. And the really extraordinary thing is forgetting it's there at all. Extraordinary, too, is John Key's political sonar - as evidenced by his 63 per cent preferred Prime Minister rating in yesterday's Herald poll, halfway through a second term. He chose to respond to the Shearer revelation with an air of statesmanlike condescension, a kind of "well, you will get yourself into these scrapes" disappointment.

And a gold star to whoever came up with the response to Shearer's generic "Does the Prime Minister stand by all his statements?" at parliamentary question time. "Yes, I do stand by all my statements," said Key. "And in that I include bank statements."

But the MP for Epsom, also known as the Act Party caucus, appeared to mistake the Prime Minister's remark for an endorsement of Banks' statements. He had shown an uncharacteristic distaste for the public spotlight since about the time that John Key was refusing to read the police report on donations to Banks's failed Auckland mayoral campaign. But look at him now, springing up like some great gurning Jack-in-the-box. Here, at last, was a chance to exact revenge on the cretins who gave him such a hard time last year.

Whether or not Key had empowered his teapot confidant to let rip I do not know. But it was a gift for Shearer. What better way to make his foolishness look trifling? By explicitly comparing Shearer's brain fade with his own over the Dotcom donation scandal, Banks was inviting us to recall that ugly episode, replete with allegations of impropriety. Not so in Shearer's case.

It invites us to revisit, too, the means by which Banks ended up back in Parliament, those unsightly tea stains that just won't wash out. We're invited to mull again this week's slap on the wrist given to Banks by the Ombudsman for withholding information about charter schools. To recall that the planned charter schools, which Act apparently insisted on, themselves will not be subject to the Official Information Act. And then, on top of all that, come fresh questions about whether he held shares in Novopay operator Talent2 while sitting on a committee that received updates on the school payment payroll system's progress. This is hardly a man that can boast of an exemplary commitment to disclosure and transparency.

Banks insists that Shearer should "apply his own ethical standards to himself and stand down" as Parliament descended into a Beavis-and-Butthead gruntathon on Wednesday.

Banks would do better to put down the spade. Either that, or we could hand this one over to Duncan "Don't you want the answer" Garner and Guyon "I do" Espiner. Their new vehicle The Vote sounds perfect. David Shearer versus John Banks, supported by their posses, each arguing that he should stay in the House. All the while, Linda Clark rows around in a cabbage boat, stopping only to poke them in the head with a giant inflatable sceptre. And we at home vote on who to evict. That would be truly memorable.

- NZ Herald

Toby Manhire

Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire is a Wellington bred, Auckland based journalist. He writes a weekly column for the NZ Herald, the NZ Listener's Internaut column, blogs for listener.co.nz, and contributes to the Guardian. From 2000 to 2010 he worked at the Guardian in London, and edited the 2012 book The Arab Spring: Rebellion, Revolution and a New World Order.

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