Barry Soper: A real storm in a tea cup


It was, well a fairly significant storm in a tea cup. Other than David Lange stopping for a cuppa in the late 80s, to reflect and put the brakes on his ambitious finance minister's plans for the economy, never has a cup of tea had so much publicity.

But publicity was what the cup of tea during the 2011 election campaign was all about. The media were told well in advance the time and place where the two Johns, Key and Banks, were going to sit down and have a cosy chat about how much the Nats would like the Epsom voters to give their party tick to Act, ensuring they had a coalition partner after the upcoming election.

Of course they thought Banksie would get a bigger share of the vote to bring in a few like minded colleagues with him.

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That didn't happen so Key was probably left regretting the morning tea bill, given that the Nats own candidate was a shoo in, and the Act insurance policy wasn't needed, just as it wasn't at the last election when they again scraped in with just the Epsom seat.

But it was the media melee and the fact that a recording device was left on the cafe table that got all the publicity, derailing the campaign for at least a week.

Noticing the device, Key was outwardly relatively ambivalent but inwardly livid. He insisted it was left there on purpose by a freelance cameraman Bradley Ambrose who was adamant he'd left it there inadvertently as the media were being ushered out of the room, to watch the two Johns get it on, like peeping Toms, from the street.

Almost five years on, Key and the cameraman, who was in the process of suing the PM for his insistence, finally met and Key now accepts it wasn't a deliberate act and makes a secret payout to Ambrose for his trouble.

The row now is who pays the piper? Key says it'll either be the taxpayer, through his leader's budget if he was seen to be acting as Prime Minister, or the National Party if he was brokering a deal as party leader. As it is, no one is likely to know how much or who had footed the bill.

Even though he's insisting the taxpayer shouldn't be short-changed on this one, the beneficiary of the whole saga was Winston Peters who clearly read the tea leaves which he immediately used as compost for his withering campaign.

Peters gave the impression he'd listened to the so called teapot tape and claimed at the time the Johns had in some way denigrated his disciples, the elderly. They'd done nothing of the sort but Peters, who'd just spent the past three years in the political wilderness, came back with seven colleagues.

If we are now to accept as genuine his view now that Ambrose did nothing wrong, it's a pity Key didn't sit down to hear his side of the story earlier. It would have saved us all a lot of hot air and money.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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