John Armstrong on politics

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Key silence on tea tape cause for suspicion

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It would be surprising if what was said was not embarrassing - though not necessarily to John Key or John Banks. Photo / Dean Purcell
It would be surprising if what was said was not embarrassing - though not necessarily to John Key or John Banks. Photo / Dean Purcell

John Key insists there is nothing on the secret tape of his "cup of tea" conversation with John Banks to cause him the slightest bother. If so, why on earth won't he agree to the release of a transcript so everyone can see whether their private tete-a-tete was as bland as the Prime Minister says it was.

Withholding permission may yet be Key's biggest mistake in this election campaign. That and going to the police in order to shut down the whole affair.

Key can talk all he likes about fighting "News of the World tabloid tactics" before they take root. But he is in the midst of the white-hot heat of an election campaign. The pressure will only build on him and Banks to reveal exactly what was said. The politics have quickly moved beyond the question of media ethics with which the Prime Minister seems to be consumed.

One thing is for sure. Last Friday's chat won't have been bland. When Banks is the other half of the conversation, the talk is never bland. It would be surprising if what was said was not embarrassing - though not necessarily to Key or Banks.

There is always a vast difference between the platitudes and verbiage politicians exude in public and the frankness of what they say in private. So details of the conversation are bound to surprise. The more important question is whether the tape included talk of someone or something that could be an election game-changer.

Until Key agrees to the release of a transcript - or the contents filter out by some other means - the suspicion will remain that he has something to hide.

And the suspicion already is that he is hiding some pretty negative assessments by one or other or both men of Act leader Don Brash and what might be done about it.

On the ethics score, Key cannot really lose. Who are people going to believe - a Sunday newspaper or the most popular Prime Minister in 40 years? On that side of the argument, Key comes out looking decisive and principled - all useful characteristics to display during an election campaign.

Laying a complaint with the police may yet backfire badly, however.

Key can now refuse to comment on further developments in this story on the grounds he is a complainant in a police investigation - an investigation which is unlikely to be completed before election day.

Then there are the wide provisions of the Crimes Act which prevent the tape and anything transcribed from it being broadcast or communicated.

Plain and simple, Key now risks being accused of hiding behind the Crimes Act not so much to protect his privacy as to save himself and Banks from political embarrassment. Not a good look 11 days out from the election.

SIDELIGHTS

On the bus ... The Greens yesterday launched their transport policy for Auckland, claiming a first for the city - a press conference held on a bus.
... off the bus: Asked by Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking when was the last time he had used public transport, a laughing Phil Goff replied: "I use public transport every day. It's called the VIP service at the moment." As Leader of the Opposition, he is entitled to the use of chauffeur-driven cars provided by Internal Affairs' VIP fleet.
What's happening today: Winston Peters announces NZ First racing policy; Phil Goff speaks to RSA conference in Wellington.

- NZ Herald

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