The ACT Party is running lines of support for John Banks, following his being found guilty of electoral fraud, but the party really needs to sit down, take a deep breath and ruthlessly cut Mr Banks loose.
The attempts at support have at times bordered on the farcical. The day of the verdict, ACT’s president, on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint, couldn’t seem to work out whether Banks was guilty of anything, as he wavered between accepting the Court’s judgment and proclaiming Banks’ innocence.
ACT Party leader, Jamie Whyte, on 3News last night, appeared to be running the line that if Banks is successful in gaining a discharge without conviction, there’ll be nothing to see here, so he shouldn’t have to resign.
And in the NZ Herald this morning, ACT’s campaign strategist, Richard Prebble, argued that the party’s brand would be hurt more by Banks resigning “when he hasn’t been convicted” than by him staying till the bitter end.
The ACT Party leadership seem to be in a state of utter denial that what Mr Banks has done is in any way wrong. Here’s Mr Prebble on the subject:
“We’re acting as though this is some heinous crime. No it isn’t, it’s just a clerical error”.
No, Mr Prebble, it is not “just a clerical error”. A High Court judge, after sitting through several weeks of evidence, has very compellingly ruled that Mr Banks took deliberate steps to hide the source of donations, in contravention of local government electoral law. Just because Len Brown did it with trusts (which were at the time legal, albeit unethical), does not make it okay for Banks to try and hide the source of donations that he knew were not anonymous.
The problem for ACT is that the longer the party tries to defend Mr Banks, the more out of touch they look. There’s a very strong appearance of “electoral laws are for other people” in their attempts to paint Banks as an honest, upstanding citizen. It brings to mind the brand destruction that Rodney Hide caused, as the perk-buster was exposed to have been raking in the perks himself. The public doesn’t like hypocrisy.
With just a few weeks before the substantive election campaign begins, ACT needs all the help it can get to engage the public with its policy. Unfortunately, when the only time your leadership features on the evening news is to a) respond to questions about why John Banks is still around, or b) feature in stories about “coat-tailing” rorts, policy doesn’t get a look-in.
The highest ACT has been in any poll this year is 1.1%. They currently sit at 0.7% in this site’s Poll of Polls. Neither figure gets them a second MP. Jamie Whyte needs to tell Banks to get off the cabbage boat and resign.
UPDATE (07/06/14 @ 12.15pm):
It’s just been reported on Stuff.co.nz that Jamie Whyte has “spoken to Banks and made it clear he thinks he should resign…”.
“John and I discussed this option earlier today and we have agreed that he will take the weekend to consider his alternatives.”
If the ACT leader has now given Banks the hard word, I would imagine we’ll see a Monday morning resignation. Banks will go gentle into that good night.