Garth George

Garth George is a Herald columnist

Garth George: The tea cup tape: Don't play it

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Read Mai Chen: The tea cup tape: Play it here

National Party leader John Key and Act Party member John Banks at a cafe in Newmarket during a cup of tea meeting. A recording device can be seen on the table. Photo / Dean Purcell.
National Party leader John Key and Act Party member John Banks at a cafe in Newmarket during a cup of tea meeting. A recording device can be seen on the table. Photo / Dean Purcell.

Just imagine if that pouch had contained not a tape recorder but a lump of plastic explosive complete with remote-controlled detonator.

I seldom disagree with anything political correspondent John Armstrong writes, but the notion that John Key should divulge his conversation with John Banks is patently absurd.

Even though it was witnessed by a scrimmage of camera, microphone and notebook-wielding media folk, the conversation over the notorious cup of tea in a Newmarket cafe between the Prime Minister and the Act candidate for Epsom was a private one.

Yes, even politicians in the middle of a short and sharp election campaign are entitled to talk frankly to one another without fear of a transcript of their conversation being made public.

The cameraman who planted a recorder on the table at which the two men sat can't be blamed for having a go.

When you're a freelancer, every opportunity has to be taken.

Key has chosen to take the matter to the police since the disclosure of material clandestinely recorded is widely covered under the Crimes Act. Thus he has quickly put the conversation beyond the reach of media - and quite rightly so.

Of much greater importance is the obvious lack of attention on the part of the Prime Minister's minders to the presence of a pouch on the cafe table within a few centimetres of the Prime Minister and Banks.

Surely the members of the diplomatic protection squad (DPS), who dog the Prime Minister's steps wherever he goes, should have at least asked if the pouch belonged to one of them, particularly in these days of terrorist threats and invasive searches of travellers.

Just imagine if that pouch had contained not a tape recorder but a lump of plastic explosive complete with remote-controlled detonator. Can you imagine the carnage, the loss of life, including the life of the nation's leader?

Laugh if you will, but I'm not scaremongering. What I'm saying is that the DPS cops, whose duty it is to protect our Prime Minister from harm, ought to take a good long look at themselves and their attention to detail.

Meanwhile, the breathlessly-heralded and vastly over-publicised meeting between Key and Banks was nothing more than political farce. Everybody knows that it was staged simply as another move in the travesty of the election in Epsom.

And, if anyone in that electorate was moved to change his or her vote because the PM deigned to sup with the has-been Act candidate, purportedly to give him an endorsement, then one has to wonder at his or her intelligence.

One can only hope that the polls are right and that nine days from now National's Paul Goldsmith will leave Banks in his wake, the far-right Act Party will become a footnote to political history, and its eccentric septuagenarian leader, Don Brash, will fade out of public life once and for all.

The other group of voters who really need their heads read are those who have lately given Winston Peters a fillip in the polls as the smarmy pensioner struggles to resurrect his NZ First party.

If Banks and Brash are well past their best-by date, then Peters is far beyond his use-by date.

How anyone can believe a word the man says is almost inconceivable to me.

In one breath he promises his elderly constituency (of whom I am one) that he will extend the discounts to SuperGold Card holders, and in the next announces that he will support neither National nor Labour but sit on the opposition crossbenches - where he will have no power to achieve anything he pledges.

Even given that political memories are invariably short, surely no one can forget the number and outrageousness of Peters' breaches of faith and trust.

As an editorial in the Herald on Sunday last weekend said: "This is the man who, in 1996, campaigned on a platform of getting rid of the National Government and then joined National [as Treasurer] in a coalition; and in 2005 said he would spurn the baubles of office, and took the [bauble-laden] Foreign Affairs portfolio in a Labour-led administration.

"He has fallen out with every party he has ever made an arrangement with and contributed enormously to the disenchantment that some voters have felt with MMP.

"And even when he has been caught out - as with the grubby Owen Glenn [$100,000] donation saga - he has attempted to paint himself as the victim of a media witch-hunt rather than of his own narcissistic and manipulative style."

Key has made it plain that National will have no truck with Peters, yet Labour leader Phil Goff has been quoted as saying that he has not ruled out a deal with the most engaging rogue in our political history.

That's desperation for you.

- NZ Herald

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