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Key and Banks on ACT: snap elections, coups & Isaac

Written By: - Date published: 10:15 am, January 27th, 2012 - 55 comments
Categories: act, election 2011, john banks, john key - Tags: ,

The  tea tapes contain a pivotal exchange where John Banks and John Key talk about “restructuring” ACT – including Banks confirming his orders from Key to make Catherine Judd the new leader. We also learn that National advisors called Key in a panic during the Brash coup calling on him to stage a snap election. It’s an insight into the cynicism of National and Key, and also Key’s poor political judgement.

Starting at 6.05 on the tape, Key and Banks spend quite a bit of time talking about their plans for “restructuring” ACT …. and how it’s important that their collusion isn’t made public. Banks practices his denial lines (ironically, it’s this very conversation that made it public):

I mean, longer-term, I reckon ACT’s got to, um… The reason I didn’t text you is it’s better if I don’t. Because it puts you under pressure to say ‘he has or he hasn’t’ done.

Banks: No No. ‘I haven’t heard from the Prime Minister. I don’t expect you to have any…’. What’s that number of yours? I’ve got two numbers for you”

Key: the proper one’s 594594

Banks: 594594.  ‘I haven’t talked to you’. If they want to know, if I’ve talked to the Prime Minister. I think it’s important that, over the campaign, we stay at arm’s length. ‘He’s got his own party and I think the new Leader should be Catherine Judd‘ (Judd now uses the surname Isaac)

Key: Yeah yeah. She’s good.

Banks: Don Nicholson and Seymour – the four of us can restructure and rebuild this party.

Key: And she’s good actually. I reckon she’ll have quite a bit of female appeal. That’s where you want to go.

Where Key’s grand plan to install Isaac as leader stands after Brash and Banks failed to get her into Parliament, we don’t know. ACT currently has no leader.

Key’s mention of the snap election comes in response to Banks saying of Don Brash at 6.53 on the tape:

“he’s a strange fella, that other fella” [incidentally, the tape is riddled with this weak code talking, because they realised that, realistically, with the media pack metres away, their conversation wasn’t private]

Key responds:

“Yeah. We’ve been down that road before. That’s why, when they rang me in the UK, I never ever thought it was going to be surging to 15% and we should have a snap election”

So, ‘they’ (which will be his senior advisors) called Key when he was in London for ANZAC Day last year, at the time of the Brash takeover of ACT. Despite it being clear that some factions within National were behind this coup, talk of ACT getting 15%, taken from National, spooked Key’s advisors into recommending a snap election.

He didn’t refuse because there was lack a real justification – no crisis of government – that would have necessitated a snap poll. Quite the opposite, he thought ACT wouldn’t seriously threaten National’s vote and, so, he didn’t need to go early. Both he and his advisors clearly felt no compunction about calling a snap election for purely political ends, however.

Interestingly (and I seriously doubt that this idea wasn’t planted by National advisors), Guyon Espiner wrote a piece at the time of the coup recommending that National hold a snap election. This reeks of National’s (highly effective) pre-framing tactics – give Guyon a hint and some lines, which he runs knowing that if and when it happens he will be able to claim amazing foresight, and thereby win the leader of the press gallery to your framing. So, I would say that the snap election was a pretty close thing.

Ironically, it would have been the right thing for National to do, for the opposite reasons to what they supposed.

ACT would still have polled abysmally in May and Labour would have polled higher but the Greens wouldn’t have done anywhere near as well, the Conservatives wouldn’t have bled 2.5% of National’s vote for no seats, and Peters probably wouldn’t have been back. National could very well have won an outright majority in a snap election in May but waiting cost them dearly (which is why Irish mocked their poor judgement for going for a November election back when Key announced it last February).


55 comments on “Key and Banks on ACT: snap elections, coups & Isaac”

  1. Rich 1

    When did Key pre-announce the election date – ISTR late 2010? After he’d done that, calling a snap election would have been hard.

    • queenstfarmer 1.1

      I don’t know, some might say it was a magnanimous gesture instead of reserving the right to play games with it like all parties typically have – eg the sort of opportunism that Irish advocated.

      or maybe not. Regardless, it is a good thing. I would support a law change that prevents a Govt from calling a snap election unless they lose a confidence vote (and possibly some other special circumstances arise). Of course they could engineer to lose a confidence vote, but that would hardly be in their interests.

      • adriank 1.1.1

        Not sure that snap election law would be worthwhile though, queenstfarmer: both Prime Ministers who have called snap elections in the modern era have been punished for it (I assume had Helen let the term run its full course in 02 they would have received a result similar to National’s last year).

        • queenstfarmer

          The benefit is that it would remove the possibility of manipulation. Why should a Govt be able to set a date that potentially disadvantages its opponents? I don’t think they should. So my preference would be to remove it – have a fixed election cycle.

      • felix 1.1.2

        Not sure that “advocate” is quite the word you’re looking for there with regard to Irish Bill.

      • Key doesn’t deserve credit for not kicking democracy in the teeth by calling a politically motivated snap election. That’s a basic thing we should expect of all Prime Ministers.

        Besides, he still got to pick a relatively advantageous date during the regular election window anyway, so it’s not like there’s any credit to give- he picked a different self-serving course. Labour is just as bad in this regard, but that doesn’t get National or Key off the hook for not giving the power away to someone truly independent, or just creating a fixed set of rules.

        • queenstfarmer

          Key doesn’t deserve credit for not kicking democracy in the teeth by calling a politically motivated snap election.


          That’s a basic thing we should expect of all Prime Ministers.

          Not really – what we expect is at least a little game playing, always with the prospect of a snap election. Key broke with tradition by announcing early (and sticking to it) that the Govt would go full term.

          • Matthew Whitehead

            No, we should not have to expect game playing. We should have a fair and neutral method of setting the election date that doesn’t inherently advantage specific parties nor does it have any systemic bias in favour of government or opposition parties.

            In short: The Prime Minister needs to give up their ability to call elections. If they want a snap election, they can instruct their own government to vote against itself in a vote of confidence.

            • queenstfarmer

              I think we are in full agreement, just saying it differently.

              It would take a law change to remove the ability to call early elections, so perhaps as part of the MMP review (maybe it is already on the radar?)

              • We’re in agreement as to what we want, I’m just saying you should be more upset that you’re not getting it and expect more from your leaders. When it comes to politicians, having high expectations, but knowing they won’t always be lived up to is, I find, the best course of action, and it encourages you to constantly pressure them to be better.

    • Lanthanide 1.2

      I always thought Key announcing the election date so early (late Jan or early Feb 2011) was a really bad move on their part, because I expected their popularity to wane over the length of the year and if the ABs had lost the world cup he’d have to bite the fallout – bit risky.

      Similarly if the election had been called early, like June-July, it would really have caught Labour and the Greens out of position.

      Seemed to me like Act’s takeover would have been the perfect excuse for a snap election, but he didn’t bite. Now he’s got only the slimmest of majorities for his key asset sales policy.

  2. The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell 2

    That’s where you want to go.

    An opinion. Hardly a “grand plan”.

    Who was the fucking idiot who called this tape a game changer? It’s just wouldn’t have been.

    • Colonial Viper 2.1

      Ironicially, Key made the tape into a game changer, both for Winston and the Greens.

      • Lanthanide 2.1.1

        Don’t forget the conservatives, who would have bled off Act as well as some from National.

        • Huh? I don’t see how the conservatives were hurt by the tape. Unless you’re implying they would never have got 3.5% without it, in which case I disagree. National and Act bleed from the centre in this type of controversy, people on the right of politics just dismiss it as a partisan bash-up.

          • Lanthanide

            I didn’t say they were hurt, I was adding their name to this list:

            “Ironicially, Key made the tape into a game changer, both for Winston and the Greens.”

      • Jack 2.1.2

        Wrong about Winston Peters… just because the press said the tapes have grown his popularity doesn’t mean it is true. Peters was gaining momentum before the tapes and according to the Horizon Polls was up around 8 percent. People like myself who voted for Key in 2008 and regretted it decided to go with Winston because Labour and Greens weren’t calling a “spade a spade”… Peters does and I hope he rips Key another you know what in Parliament. Oh, and I am 63 and am not dead… Since my decision, I have grown fond of Peters because every party, major news media and right wing blog are after him and he seems to still elude them.

        • Colonial Viper

          What will be fascinating will be if Winston can transform NZ First into something more than just the ‘Winston Party’ by the end of this term. The man is at the dusk of his political career (which is not to say that he won’t accomplish a lot more in the time allotted) and without renewal NZ1 will finish with him.

  3. Colonial Viper 3

    Key should have called an earlier election than he did. The electorate would have accepted an end of July election on the basis that it gets it out of the way for the World Cup, and it was well within the acceptable normal timeframes.

    National was extremely strong earlier in the year, and both Labour and NZ1 were nowhere. Betting an election on the AB’s win was foolish and in the end was a lot of risk for zero gain. And Key’s media star was in definite wane in the last quarter.

    All in all it’s no surprise that the National coalition is 4 seats down on last time.

    • chris73 3.1

      Except of course they still did win and how many MPs did Labour lose?

    • Jack 3.2

      I agree. He has maybe 2014, so I would say another 6 years.. and then nzfirst might be over but a lot of things can happen between now and then.

  4. Shona 4

    Thanks for a partial transcript. I just can’t tolerate listening to Key for more than a nano second. He has such abysmal diction and an impoverished vocab. His speech impediment is nauseating.

    • Hami Shearlie 4.1

      Listening to Key is painfully bad, but nowhere near as bad as looking into those blank dead eyes! I always imagine a serial killer would have eyes like his! I’ve never seen a real live zombie before – it really creeps me out! The terrible diction is even worse on the phone – I know – I got a pre-recorded call from him before the election!!

  5. randal 5

    so is kweeweecorp now pretending it doesn’t have a controlling interest in binkycorp?

  6. Absolute conclusive and irrefutable proof that ACT is a poodle party.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 6.1

      Poodle party ?

      More like chew toy, once they got down to one MP

    • Hami Shearlie 6.2

      NO!! Poodles are the smartest dogs around -Act, well they’re more like pugs or bulldogs – stubborn, yet completely dense!! And after all no poodle would be caught dead being called “Binky”! They’re far too classy for that!!

  7. ak 7

    Guyontory Spinner’s piece is more than just interesting, rather damning evidence of his role as opinion-leader for Joyce and the nasties’ funders.

    Quite delicious really: they’d put so much sterling work into the “nice John” image over preceding years that the contrived snap election gambit was a failure with the focus groups and talkback. Hoist by their own filthy petards again.

  8. james 111 8

    Really has no legs at all real damp squid for both Labour and Winston the fake

  9. randal 9

    kweewee will never call a snap election because even his densest advisor will tell him that he and his gubmint would go down like a row of sh*tcans when it comes to a matter of principle because neither he nor his party or his gubmint have any.

    • Please use real words. There’s so much wrong with this government that there’s no need to call them made up names when you can just list all of the stuff they’ve done instead.

      • alwyn 9.1.1

        I suspect he thinks that they are real words. They make about as much sense as some of his statements.

        [randal has posted here for ages using his own ‘signature style’ for want of a better term. He’s never given any of the moderators concern, and while it sometimes takes a moment or two to decode what he’s saying … well there’s no obligation on anyone to do so if they don’t care to.

        I’d prefer to see this end here… RL]

        • mickysavage

          Randal always makes perfect sense to me.

        • Ah, apologies, I thought this was an attempt to establish some sort of silly derogatory name for Key. 🙂

        • lprent

          The only modertor attention he has ever required is that Akismet tosses his comments ino the spam queue every day because of the randal style. We release them manually every day. That has been going on for years.

          But I think we are winning (each one we release tells the program it was wrong). Akismet has let through at least a dozen of his comments automatically over the last few weeks. I had to read the moderated message log to be sure

  10. randal 10

    Last time I heard this was a free country.
    If you are ofended then grow up and accept that life is like this and your precious sensibilities aren’t worth shit.

  11. Maui 11

    I think Matt’s point is clear communication, aka plain english, rather than complicating life with obscure self-referential formulations such as ‘kweewee’, ‘gubmint’, and ‘sh*tcans’.



  12. law 12

    “Yeah. We’ve been down that road before. That’s why, when they rang me in the UK, I never ever thought it was going to be surging to 15% and we should have a snap election”

    It is a stretch but- the 15% could be them talking about how large the gap was between Labour and National…

    • Carol 12.1

      Wasn’t Brash claiming that his ACT party would make 15% in the 2011 election.

      • law 12.1.1

        Wasn’t Goff claiming that he would win the election?

        • RedLogix

          Well Goff came within about 1-2% of his claim.

          • law

            lowest result in how many years?

            The original claim was a genuine theory- far fetched I agree, but as possible as some of the claims made here.

            • RedLogix

              A 1- 2% swing to the left, and Key could not have formed a government. It was a very close election….but you know this.

              • jaymam

                Even without such a swing, if more Epsom people especially lefties had voted for Goldsmith, that would have knocked out Banks and ACT for ever, and added another seat to non-National , i.e. a two seat change..
                I tried more than most, to achieve this.

  13. randal 13

    well if that isnt clear then how come you understand what I am saying?
    r u gubmint lackeys or sumthng?

  14. randal 14

    dats rite boy.
    when da gubmint gets me da job den I wont have to sit here amusing myself at the expense of grubby little ward heelers whose only claim to fame is dey know how to extract money out of the system but yet want complete obedience and deference from the peasants.
    in a pigs as* if you get my drift.

    • Tazirev 14.1

      Sorry, just realised you suffer from Slater-Farrar Syndrome, hows the eyesight these days??

  15. Maui 15

    randal, you are not the only one in that situation.

    • Maui 16.1

      So join the queue.

      Google or Ixquick by

      ‘Lessons_From_The_Great_Depression_For_Dummies’ or

      ‘Living_Well_In_A_Down_Economy_For_Dummies’ (both pdf files)

      as well as


      Both are aimed at the North American market, but have constructive advice
      for the world we face today .. unless you are in the top 1%.

      Cheers, and have a good day ..

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