John Il Key may not feel even the slightest bit embarrassed as he is chauffeured about Auckland looking out at a sea of election placards dominated by his smiling face.

National's campaign strategists have made this election so comprehensively about the Prime Minister's personality that it is all too easy to overlook the fact that there are other players in his Government.

That is campaign chief Steven Joyce's call. And with Key's personal popularity riding high, it has helped to sustain National's ratings.

But when a seasoned politician like Act's John Banks started babbling on this week about how he is standing to promote "Brand Key" you have to question his sanity.


Surely Banks - and Act's leader Don Brash who just months ago boasted how he would keep Key honest - must have had second thoughts about how it would look to voters if they got down on their knees to pay homage to some other party's "Dear Leader" just to get into Parliament?

The reality is that neither Banks nor Brash needed to prostrate themselves quite so obviously.

The upset result in the Herald-DigiPoll survey, which showed National shed almost five points within a week, meant it was just as much in Key's interest to have the so-called cup of tea as it was in Banks' interest to have the Prime Minister throw Act a symbolic lifeline in Epsom.

The problem is Banks is too much a National Party man for the Act Party. He is a former National Cabinet minister and has good personal links with Key's chief of staff Wayne Eagleson, which date back to the Muldoon era.

Brash may have served as National's leader but his ideology is much more aligned with Act. Even though Key said yesterday that he would be happy to have Brash in a second term Cabinet, the Act leader would be frustrated by National's policy tempo.

First things first.

Epsom voters do know that National is now vulnerable.

The Prime Minister's nudge will help to shore up Banks. But there has been considerable talk about town that Labour and the Greens could also play a tactical game to force Act out. If enough Labour and Greens supporters vote for National candidate Paul Goldsmith, Banks could be left out in the cold. At some point National may consider whether to withdraw Goldsmith. I'm picking this will not happen unless National's rating continues to slide and Act's picks up.


It will not be plain sailing even if Act does get back into Parliament and becomes a junior party in a second term National-led government.

First, Act's negotiating coin has been diminished by the tawdry behaviour of its previous MPs. Second, Brash cost Act considerable headway when he made his undisciplined comments over supporting the decriminalisation of cannabis. Third, a post-election agreement would have to be cemented.

The late Business Roundtable executive director Roger Kerr and his ideological soulmate Bryce Wilkinson were intimately involved in the confidence and supply agreement negotiations Act held with National after the 2008 election. Kerr and Wilkinson were largely responsible for the big policy wins that National conceded, including the 2025 taskforce that Brash headed, the findings of which Key ignored.

There is another issue.

Act supporters will not want Brash and Banks to keep banging on about "Brand Key" after the election.

But what scares me is the thought that someone (let's blame Joyce as he is chief strategist) had no difficulty in persuading even the most intelligent of Cabinet ministers that they should pepper their stump speeches with references to "John Key" or "the John Key Government'.


Joyce was a long-time media man before being catapulted into the Cabinet in 2008 without having to serve even a few months as a parliamentary apprentice. Like other Cabinet ministers he knows he holds his job at Key's behest.

The problem is this orchestrated sycophancy may not stop at the Cabinet door. Key has been able to get ministers' support for pet projects - like the cycleway - which do not cut the fiscal mustard. No one in his Cabinet seems to have been able to persuade him to revisit his fundamentally pig-headed decision to refuse to address the need to raise the age of entitlement to NZ Super.

Banks might (just) be able to go along with this. But Brash would have considerable difficulty in swallowing a bunch of dead National rats.