Andrew Little will take his wins where he can and arguably being sued for $2.3 million and walking away without paying a cent qualifies as one such win.

Little was even spared the $100,000 he had offered to pay by way of a settlement to avoid the trial in the first place.

But even if there is no further trial Little has learned two lessons from his brush with the hoteliers Lani and Earl Hagaman.

One was that a grandmother's advice "a stitch in time saves nine" has some value.


The second is to stick to the debating chamber when he wanted to criticise somebody without knowing the full facts, where he is protected by privilege.

The neglected stitch in time was in the form of Little's refusal to apologise early on in the piece.

Little has acknowledged he caused the Hagamans hurt and for that he was sorry. He may have been a lot sorrier if the Hagamans were not wealthy businesspeople and garnered more public sympathy.

But they were only one in an increasing list of apologies either reluctantly bestowed or completely neglected.

Little has made much of his determination to pay any damages or settlement payout out of his own pocket. Asked how he would have covered a $2.3 million cost if it had been awarded, he joked "I'd be busking at the bottom of Lambton Quay right now".

It all looks very virtuous.

But it was also because just a year ago, Little criticised former Prime Minister John Key for proposing to use his Parliamentary-funded leaders' budget to settle the "teapot tapes" defamation case brought by photographer Bradley Ambrose against him.

Little said New Zealanders had to know Key had learned the lesson "that an attack from him on a New Zealander can cause serious harm to that person's career".

He said Key should both apologise and foot the bill. "If anyone can afford to pay for a 'small cash settlement', it's John Key."

Key changed his mind a day later and said it would be paid for by the National Party and donations.

Just one month after berating Key for making statements that damaged an ordinary citizens career, Little kicked off the events that culminated in the Hagamans trial.

About the same time, he got into a pickle over a comment he made about tax consultant John Shewan, who was appointed by the Government to review the foreign trust regime.

Shewan objected to Little's claim he had advised the Bahamas government on how to remain a tax haven - a claim made on the basis of a Bahamas newspaper report which Shewan said was wrong.

After some to-ing and fro-ing, Little retracted his comments, saying he accepted Shewan's explanation. There was no apology and the retraction was issued on a Saturday afternoon just before an All Blacks test.

It was inevitable it would be raised in Little's trial and sure enough the Hagamans' lawyer Richard Fowler asked if it showed a reluctance to apologise.

The most foolhardy consequence of Little's actions is that in both cases, precious time and energy has been used up in futile squabbling with people who have no bearing on what he wants to do: become the Prime Minister. They have been a distraction.

Sorry may indeed be the hardest word - but it is sometimes also the cheapest.