Matt McCarten on politics
Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Drop Banks and spare us costly dead weight

After Rodney Hide's ousting from Act, he's had time to work around the home. Photo / Getty Images
After Rodney Hide's ousting from Act, he's had time to work around the home. Photo / Getty Images

Come back, Rodney, all is forgiven. Act's conduct since his departure makes its dysfunctional time in government seem like its golden years.

Of course, under Rodney Hide's leadership Act did degenerate into a national joke. Its caucus was a gaggle of misfits. Some of them were clearly dysfunctional and they appeared to be waiting for their inevitable extermination on Election Day.

But then a saviour shuffled back on to the electoral stage. Don Brash was like some eccentric professor who was put up by the desperate who had nothing to lose.

As we know, the doctor, not even a party member, offered to save Act from oblivion and take them to the dizzy heights of 15 per cent of the popular vote.

The price was that they had to assassinate their incumbent leader.

The idiot caucus, with the exception of MP John Boscawen, blindly swallowed the doctor's snake-oil sales pitch and threw Hide under the bus. The doctor's appointment of his business partner and doyen of social conservatism, John Banks, as their Epsom candidate signalled the end of any pretence of Act being a liberal, free-market vanguard.

Since then we have cringed at the tedious and tortuous farce of a terminal patient who has embarrassingly hung on way past their expiry date. Death would be a blessing.

This week's endless revelations of Banks' relationship with mogul Kim Dotcom brings the farce to a head. The fact we believe the word of someone with a questionable past over a Minister of the Crown, who paints himself as an honest Christian family man, sums up Banks' and his party's credibility. The Prime Minister's admission that he hasn't spoken to Banks directly, or anyone else involved, is because he needs to cover his own butt.

John Key also needs to protect Banks because he needs the SkyCity pokies deal done. The hypocrisy of Banks - the anti-gambling campaigner being the deciding vote that allows 500 more pokie machines in the community - is breathtaking.

But the other reason that Key will keep fudging this sordid story is that he needs Banks' vote in Parliament on May 24 to get his Budget through. If Banks resigns, the Government will have to rely totally on the Maori Party to pass it. Having Tariana Turia holding Key to ransom isn't something his Government could survive.

So for the next 19 days, Key will wear the fallout and hope his reputation isn't too damaged.

However, on May 25, Banks' usefulness is over. Key may well decide to cut his losses and sack Banks - hoping to force a by-election in Epsom. National will romp home. Having a one-MP coalition serves no purpose, anyway. Gifting Act the Epsom seat at the last election was only a benefit if Act got extra MPs from their party list. They didn't.

The upside for National by winning a byelection is its caucus numbers will increase by one. This negates its need for Banks and makes it much easier. No more wasted time dealing with Act, a Cabinet place opens up for one of their own, and this embarrassing distraction ends.

Even the most ardent Act supporter knows they have used up any goodwill. Do they believe their party can be rebuilt with Banks as their leader and sole MP? National would do better giving the Rodney electorate to the Conservative Party.

At the least it can demand that Act cleans house before it asks National for a seat again.

I wonder if it occurred to the Act board that if they'd told Brash and Banks to disappear last year, they would probably be enjoying a resurgence with three competent true believers in Parliament: Hide, Boscawen and Catherine Isaac.

Instead, they embarrass the Prime Minister, the Government, their supporters and expose our national politics as sleazy.

The cost of last year's cup of tea in Epsom has become far too high. It's time for Banks to settle the bill and go - for everyone's sake.

- Herald on Sunday

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