Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: The impact of John Banks on the election campaign

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John Banks at the Auckland High Court. Photo / Dean Purcell
John Banks at the Auckland High Court. Photo / Dean Purcell

John Banks has announced his resignation. But can this final act, for Act, stop him - or at least his legacy - from playing a key role in the election campaign?

Epsom impact

While Banks announced his resignation late on Sunday afternoon, attention was already turning to the fate of the Auckland seat of Epsom, where David Seymour will be trying to turn the page on the Banks incident. For an insight into the dynamics of the seat, watch the television debate between candidates David Seymour (Act), Julie Anne Genter (Greens) and Michael Wood (Labour) on TV3's The Nation.

The debate was notable for Wood's use of a bag of flour to represent Paul Goldsmith, the National candidate who had the job of trying not to win the seat, as part of the 'cup of tea' deal with Act and John Banks - see Paul Goldsmith replaced with a bag of flour. The stunt has already spawned its own Twitter account. For follow-on discussion of the debate, see also leftwing commentator Russell Brown's The Ides of Epsom.

Martyn Bradbury is now urging tactical thinking on the left in Epsom: 'Fighting the uphill battle of a having a candidate with no discernible personality is the tactical voting of Epsom Labour and Green voters. They wasted 6000 electorate votes last election on Labour and Green candidates who were NEVER going to win.

If those voters decide to be as strategic as the National voters who are electing a puppet ACT candidate and vote for the National Party candidate Paul Goldsmith instead, then it's all over for ACT' - see: Why Banks resigning won't save ACT: How National win Epsom for the Left.

Wider electoral impact

The wider impact of the Banks saga is now also being reflected upon. The NBR's Rob Hosking thinks that Banks' resignation will 'clear the air': 'Mr Banks' departure will now allow Act leader Jamie Whyte to campaign on policy matters and not be continually caught up in matters over what Mr Banks did in 2010' - see: Banks' departure will clear the air (paywalled). Broadcaster Rachel Smalley broadly agrees, saying that Act and National can now 'wash their hands' of the Banks affair - see: ACT and National can wash their hands of John Banks.

How has Act's new leader fared in the Banks trial aftermath? Blogger Pete George looks at various opinions in Different impressions of Jamie Whyte.

The issue of 'coat-tailing', the use of the exemption to the 5% threshold under MMP for which Banks and the 'cup of tea' deal had become a symbol, is also again up for discussion in a thoughtful piece by former Green MP Keith Locke - see: Coat-tailing has ensured political diversity under MMP.

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Sympathy for Banks - electoral law reform?

Amidst the widespread criticism of Banks, there are some revealing sympathetic - or at least empathetic - voices, several of which focus on the application and enforcement of electoral laws. Colin Espiner writes: 'Whether or not you believe Banks really did know where the money for his mayoral campaign came from, this issue needs to be placed in some context. Most political parties and politicians know perfectly well - or strongly suspect - where their so-called "anonymous" donations are coming from. And they get away with it, because our political-donations laws are an ass' - see: Banks' public fall from grace.

In a more partisan vein, Kiwiblog author David Farrar quotes former Act and National leader Don Brash pointing out the inconsistencies over enforcement of electoral law with a comparison of Banks and Labour's 'pledge card' spending in 2005: 'In 2005, the Labour Party spent Parliamentary funding to the extent of more than three-quarters of a million dollars on explicit electioneering, despite having been warned against doing so by both the Auditor General and the Chief Electoral Officer just weeks before the election. Yes, they eventually repaid that money, but only under strong protest. And of course by that the time the election was won' - see: Brash on Banks. Blogger Danyl Mclauchlan disagrees with the argument in: On silly laws.

A discussion on TV3's Firstline between leftwing commentators David Slack and Brian Edwards also reveals a more sympathetic view to Banks - see: Sympathy for Banks despite differences. And for a generous view from former Act leader Rodney Hide, who lost his Epsom seat to John Banks, see: They're all winners, more or less.

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How pressure mounted on Banks to resign

While articles written about the possibility of Banks resigning may seem overtaken by events today, their chronology illustrates the pressure that Banks was put under by his party, rivals and commentators to resign. Quoted in Saturday's Weekend Herald, Act campaign manager and former leader Richard Prebble was defending Banks' right to remain an MP: 'We're acting as though this is some heinous crime. No it isn't, it's just a clerical error... If he was to quit as a member of Parliament when he hasn't been convicted, that might damage Act's brand' - see: John Banks should keep seat: Prebble.

But by Sunday, Prebble was beginning to distance himself in an interview on TVNZ's Q&A - see John Banks will do the honourable thing - Prebble. Prebble's initial support for Banks went against a wave of commentary from friends, foes and others which almost universally called for Banks to go. From the right, Herald columnist Fran O'Sullivan wrote: 'Banks is a smart man. He is intensely loyal. He needs to reflect on what has happened. Then do the decent thing and resign' - see: Act needs to move on and Banks needs to do the decent thing.

From the left, Labour's Greg Presland wrote on Saturday: 'So essentially if John Banks receives a discharge without conviction, which is really unlikely, he can serve his term out. Otherwise unless he resigns well before his sentencing Parliament will have to be resummonsed after August 3 so they can pass a resolution confirming that a by election in Epsom is not required. If this was required the Taxpayers Union should be apoplectic. And there would be a stark reminder that members of a party which once proudly claimed to be perk busters had engaged in behaviour that had cost the country dearly. I suspect that all parties apart from ACT thinks that John Banks should resign. As soon as possible' - see: Why John Banks is now John Key's biggest headache.

In between were all manner of comment pieces and newspaper editorials - see Fairfax political editor Tracy Watkins' Farcical options for Banks, the Herald's editorial, Minimising Banks' crime doubly wrong, and the Southland Times editorial, The plank must look pretty good. The Southland Times piece gives a flavour of the vitriol for Act's sole MP: 'John Banks must see the plank that now stretches out in front of him for what it is. The shortest, least ignominious route to his departure from politics. For the disgraced former ACT party leader, convicted of a plenty-serious electoral offence while an Auckland mayoralty candidate, the plank doesn't represent a descent into a shark pool. If anything, it's an escape from it. Within Parliament he is now merely a carcass that will attract thrashing attacks'.

For an indication of the pressure John Banks was under over the weekend, read his comments made on Saturday to a Sunday Star-Times report in F*** off, says under-pressure Banks.

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Post-resignation reflections

While Prime Minister John Key was earlier apparently sympathetic to Banks, calling him 'honest', the door now seems to have been closed on him with a bang. Key has said that he would not have used Banks' vote had he not resigned - see: PM's snub for Banks' vote, and John Banks' votes would've been rejected.

Both John Key and Labour leader David Cunliffe have reacted to the Banks resignation in regular Monday-morning radio and television comment slots - listen to John Key on Radio New Zealand - Banks' decision to quit 'sensible', and watch David Cunliffe on TVNZ's Breakfast programme. For an interesting inside perspective, listen to former Act caucus press secretary Trish Sherson on Newstalk ZB.

In other analysis, Herald political editor Audrey Young believes Banks was surprised by the 'guilty, but no conviction' outcome of his trial - see: Conviction delay blindsided Act MP. Further commentary on the resignation itself can be found in the Press editorial, Banks faces political reality, which attributes the resignation to pressure placed on Banks over the weekend: 'But over the weekend, there had also been many calls for Banks to quit. Most had come from the usual opposition quarters, but one report also said that his own party wanted an indication from him by today on what he intended to do. There was the whiff of mob hysteria about it'.

For more on and from the man who brought John Banks to court, Graham McCready, see the Sunday Star-Times profile Laughing all the way to the Banks, and his intriguing open letter to Banks: Graham McCready to John Banks - an open letter. In the letter, McCready, a convicted criminal himself, includes the following advice for Banks: 'Accept responsibility for your actions. Immediately as part of acceptance resign from Parliament. Do not dance on the head of a pin before the Probation Officer on the difference between "Found Guilty of an Indictable Criminal Offence" and "A Conviction being entered". On Monday YOU contact the Probation Service. Do not let your clown of a lawyer do it or wait for a Probation Officer to phone you. COOPERATE with them. BE VERY HUMBLE'.

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Beyond Banks

Are we being sidetracked by the Banks story? The Herald's John Armstrong argues that Banks' demise will increase the likelihood of National striking a deal with the Conservative Party leader Colin Craig: 'Nevertheless, as much as he will not like doing so, Key is going to have to hand Craig an electorate as insurance against the Maori Party not making it back to Parliament. The arrival of Internet Mana has left him no choice. That was the real story of the week - not Banks' - see: Right-left jockeying real news of the week.

Also looking beyond the immediate Banks story is blogger Russell Brown, who points out the courtroom drama masked the release of a disastrous poll for the Left. The Roy Morgan poll would have given the Right a majority - see: Meanwhile back at the polls.

Finally, for some much-needed humour on the Banks saga, see blogger Scott Yorke's Move along please, sir, and also some visual fun in the Daily Blog's fake Act billboard, and other, as well as cartoons in the Herald by Body, and Bromhead.

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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