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ACT and John Banks: are they gone?

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford
John Banks

 If I had been John Banks' press secretary, I would have squirmed this morning while watching Q + A.

Talk about being evasive: Banks didn't answer any of Paul Holmes' questions regarding the anonymity of Kim DotCom's donation to his mayoral campaign.

It's bad enough for Banks to have been in the company of a person who now faces deportation to the US on criminal charges. Being accused of not disclosing a second campaign donation from that same person is worse. 

The pressure is now on PM John Key to do the right thing - that is to stand down Banks until all investigations are completed.

If the police do investigate this matter (as they should - after all they investigated who taped Key's and Banks' cosy little teapot chat) and if consequently charges are laid, and if Banks is convicted of a non-disclosure offence under the Local Electoral Act, then the former Auckland mayor, ex-Muldoonist, and sometime son of criminal parents himself will be ejected from Parliament.

That will end Banks' political career and with it ACT's presence in Parliament. If that scenario eventuated, I believe that National, in order to preserve its popularity with voters, will cut the party loose. Clearly, they won't want a tainted political party hanging around any longer as a support partner. Key and his advisers will pragmatically decide to see out the rest of this term with the support of the Maori and United Future parties.

In fact, ACT's demise could in fact make National more moderate again. The National-led Government could decide, for example, to sell fewer state assets, dump charter schools (an ACT initiative) and slow down the pace of economic reform. This would go down well with some swinging voters. Also, the prospect of National humiliating a Shearer-led Labour Party at a possible Epsom by-election would be too good to pass up. National will be hoping that a fight develops on the left between a demoralised, infighting Labour Party and a strengthened, united Green Party. Any such fight (reminiscent of that between the Alliance and Labour in the mid-1990s) could be played out in any possible contest where the fight for second place in Epsom could become the focus of media and public attention. After all, absent any dumping of Shearer, such a fight could become a microcosm of increasing inter-left party tensions at the national level as well.

Also, could ACT decide to fold up its tent too? 

Perhaps President Catherine Isaacs, a public relations specialist, will call it a day for the party in its current form. There has been speculation that a new, libertarian party could emerge with a completely new name, constitution, structure and branding. I firmly believe that a new, more ideologically pro-business party will emerge on the right. Clearly, they will want nothing to do with anyone as questionably conservative as Banks. Indeed, some party members might even welcome Banks' demise, however it comes. I saw a Tweet from Auckland's ACT on Campus group threatening to withdraw their support from him should he not adhere to that group's marijuana liberalisation stance, something that Don Brash publicly championed during his short time in the leadership.

In any event, even if Banks survives this scrape, his image (or what remains of it) will be tarnished.

And ACT could without any further crises right now.





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