Try as National's enemies might to squeeze every last drop of advantage from the guilty verdict handed down to John Banks yesterday, the overall political impact of the court's ruling - with one exception - is likely to be minimal.
That exception is an important one. How long can National keep expecting its long-suffering supporters in Epsom to keep ticking Act on their ballot paper when that party continues to be a seemingly neverending all-round embarrassment? As David Cunliffe has noted, Banks' disgrace is now a dead albatross hanging around the neck of David Seymour, Act's would-be successor in the blue-ribbon seat.
Unless Banks' legal team is successful in securing a discharge without conviction when Banks is back in court in August for sentencing, yesterday's guilty verdict could prove to be a major distraction in coming weeks to the efforts being made by Act's new leader, Jamie Whyte, to restore and re-polish his party's tarnished brand. And there are precious few weeks left before electioneering starts in earnest with the kick-off of the official four-week campaign leading up to election day on September 20.
While National still entertains hopes that Seymour might bring another Act MP into Parliament with him, Act's abysmal ratings in most, if not all opinion polls offer no reason for National to hold its breath.
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On the plus side for Key, there is no indication that National is suffering any collateral damage from being closely associated with Banks. If voters are perturbed by Key's reliance on Banks and Peter Dunne, who was also forced to resign as a minister, they would surely have kicked up a ruckus before now.
The lack of mass public disquiet will not stop Opposition parties rounding on Banks and John Key, targeting the latter for conveniently turning a blind eye to investigations into the former's handling of political donations.
Much is being made of National being able to hold on to Banks - and more importantly his vote - until the last day Parliament is sitting before the election. But with little in the offing by way of controversial legislation which would require Banks' vote to make it into law, it might have suited National and Act better for Banks to have been thrown out of Parliament forthwith. That would have given Seymour and Whyte some space to let the air clear before they resumed door-knocking in Epsom - rather than prolonging the agony for another two months.
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