John Armstrong 's Opinion

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Key comes to senses to end regretful tale

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John Banks and John Key.  Photo / Mark Mitchell
John Banks and John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The final act of the "teapot tape" saga has seen the Prime Minister come to his political senses following his otherwise patchy management of the matter.

John Key may look magnanimous in accepting a letter of regret from Bradley Ambrose, the freelance cameraman who says he inadvertently - the police say intentionally - taped the now-infamous conversation between the Prime Minister and Act's Epsom candidate John Banks.

The letter, however, clearly tipped the balance in the police determining that they will not prosecute Ambrose under Crimes Act provisions outlawing the covert taping and distribution of the contents of private conversations without consent.

There would have been precious little, if any, upside for Key or National in going to court. It would have been a media circus; it would have been a further distraction from Government efforts to get voters to focus on National's policy programme.

That is the real reason why Key has opted to turn the other cheek.

The letter - which Key intimated followed discussions between Crown prosecutors and the respective parties' legal counsel - may well be categorised as one of his "elegant solutions" where everyone gets something.

The Prime Minister can claim to have been vindicated in his laying of his complaint with the police saying the taping of the conversation was both deliberate and unlawful.

Ambrose gets a warning from the police - but not a criminal conviction. He has expressed regret for what happened. But he has stopped short of an apology because he insists he had no intention of taping the conversation.

The police are not burdened with taking a case which would have seemed to have failed every one of the 16 "public interest" guidelines listed by the Solicitor-General to be taken into account when determining whether a prosecution should proceed.

Yesterday's resolution is a tame outcome when put alongside Key's campaign bravado which saw him vowing to crusade against what he considered was evidence of elements of the New Zealand media heading down the road to News of the World-style tabloidisation.

Certainly, nothing has enraged the Prime Minister more than the taping of his brief conversation with Banks.

Of course, he was within his rights to lay a complaint - and this only enhanced his standing with many voters.

Politically, it was folly when coupled with his refusal to divulge the contents of the tape. It may well have been the difference between Winston Peters making it back to Parliament or not.

Key would not let it go. It seemed to create a blind spot in his political antennae. Fortunately for National, normal transmission now seems to have been restored.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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