John Banks will take today's guilty verdict for electoral
fraud hard - very hard.
His life has come full circle in a manner which he could
never have predicted and which will torment him for long
after the public tumult surrounding the case has subsided.
The all-powerful driving force in Banks' life, which saw him
carve out a successful career as an entrepreneur and and led
to his natural progression into politics, has been the sheer
awfulness of his parents' sordid life of crime.
More precisely, it is his memory of the horror and ignominy
of seeing his parents sentenced to prison after being
convicted on back-street abortion charges.
Speaking after being forced to stand down as a minister last
year - and coming close to breaking down in the process -
Banks said he had devoted much of his life to trying "to
balance the family ledger".
To have himself ended up in court and on the receiving end of
a guilty verdict will have convinced him that he has failed
in life and failed miserably.
Joining that not-so exclusive club of MPs who have been
chucked out of Parliament for good - an institution which he
has graced and loved for more than two decades - will be
equally if not more devastating.
In time, however, he will regard the conviction as just
another low point in a public life which has been punctuated
constantly with noteworthy highs and similarly littered with
But not now. Banks is cursed with being a perfectionist. But
the world of politics is imperfect. It has a habit of of
throwing a curve-ball out of nowhere. And Banks - who would
have thought he was off the hook after the police opted not
to press charges -- got one which he will argue to his dying
day he never deserved.
But as much as he has been found guilty of rorting the
handling of political donations, he is more guilty of
foolishness. For that reason, it would be silly to send him
to prison. That anyway looks unlikely to happen.
During a career in politics at both the at national and local
level, Banks could play the game as roughly as anyone.
He once used one of his radio programmes to describe a Herald
political reporter, who had penned a few negative, but pretty
innocuous remarks rebuking Banks for something he had done as
a minister, as "a streak of weasel's piss".
But behind the bravado and unique phraseology - he has
constantly spoken of how he would "restructure, rebuild,
rebrand and relaunch" Act as a new party -- lies a very human
He has a genuine and lasting regard for those with whom he
has crossed paths. He is capable of extraordinary acts of
Apart from the events which saw him end up in court, his
biggest mistake was to return to national politics three
years ago as Act's sole MP. He has not had a happy time.
Parliamentary life had changed a lot during his 12-year
absence. Being a lone MP has made things even tougher.
Who could forget the night in the House when Labour picked at
him like buzzards feeding on road-kill. That is not a
criticism of Labour. Banks simply had no colleagues to
Yet equally anyone listening to the House back in January
will not forget his speech on income inequality. This was no
academic treatise - and it was all the more powerful for not
As someone who had experienced grinding poverty - unlike the
great majority of MPs - he made a plea for an end to
government borrowing to fund ever more welfare.
"I know what it is like going to school every day in an
ex-army uniform with no shoes; spending all day, every day,
out of the classroom stealing other kids' lunches; going home
to bread and milk - at best - at night, cooked over an open
fire with sugar on top; if I am very lucky, taking Weet-bix
covered in dripping to school each day; and living in a very
dark hole. That is child poverty."
The speech moved other MPs in the House regardless of
political allegiance. But it was also a reminder that as much
as he has might try to do so, he can never escape his past.
- By John Armstrong of the New Zealand Herald