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I am writing this at around 7:45 am on Tuesday the 1st of May — long before I suspect the dust will settle on the John Banks/Kim Dotcom affair. I am moved to write this because I am appalled at the behaviour of the media — David Lange’s legendary reef-fish feeding frenzy has nothing on the way the country’s media are behaving.
It’s to be expected of course because from the very start of his public and political life, John Banks has loved the sport of baiting the media and those who may not share his views. This sport, having fun, “winding people up” has been the downfall of Banks on a number of occasions, the media love to take the bait, but this could possibly be the last hurrah for him.
The media are like a bunch of drunken soccer fans on a mindless rampage, hounding Banks at every turn. By this morning, the flow of new information is down to a trickle and we are getting repeats of repeats.
It’s not just the media who love to hate John Banks and want to see him get his come-uppance — the public feel the same way about him — even though he is smarter than new paint.
John Banks should have been the mayor of the new super-sized Auckland instead of Len Brown. But large-scale support from South Auckland for Brown and ambivalence from the rest of the place saw Banks lose.
Despite an inner toughness that has seen him succeed in life against all odds, Banks is also a creature of deep human failings and frailties. One of those frailties is an addiction to the power of politics. Having lost the Auckland mayoralty race, Banks returned to national politics but via the shonkiest path he could possibly have taken — it was a mistake.
Banks is a smart cookie and I am perplexed by his handling of the whole mayoral funding issue — from the initial mistake (whether it was his mistake or not) of labelling the Sky City donation as anonymous to his appearance with Paul Holmes on Q+A, to his repetitious “can’t remembers”, we have seen Banks making blunder after blunder and painting himself into a proverbial corner from which there is no escaping.
The real issue has long been lost in a media circus where John Banks has become the major star.
I doubt very much if the media or the public really understand or care about the original issue any more — this has now become a case of “getting Banks” — and Banks has allowed that to happen.
The real issue here, as alluded to by a couple of media commentators is the “loophole” in the local body electoral act that allows a wider interpretation of the use of anonymous to describe donations. But where has the cool, calm, collected discussion about what that loophole is? It’s been skimmed over in this reef fish media feeding frenzy.
I know John Banks — we were hosts at Radio Pacific at the same time and I got to know him well.
He’s a good man. His background is well enough known — his bank-robber father was a crook and his mother an abortionist, both had serious drinking problems. He grew up in Auckland’s underworld of the fifties and sixties. Given such an upbringing, John Archibald Banks should have had no chance. He too should have ended up as a criminal, but he didn’t. He became an entrepreneur, amassing a personal fortune before turning his energies to public life.
His turning his back on the life he grew up in saw John Banks adopt a strong inner strength that often manifests itself in what we popularly call anal behaviour. Much about John’s outward behaviour is stiff, informal and uncomfortable. He tries to alleviate this by having “sport”, playing with people in a misguided attempt at humour and becoming one of the good guys.
When he lost the Auckland mayoralty to Dick Hubbard, Banks was personally devastated and he initially retreated from public life to lick his wounds and reappear as a full-time radio talkshow host — “Breakfast with Banksie” on Radio Pacific.
It had become blindingly obvious that Aucklanders realised they had made a mistake in electing Hubbard who was a disaster as mayor and it became equally obvious that Banks was quietly lining himself up for another crack.
Shortly before he made his announcement, Banksie took the Programme Director at Radio Pacific and I out for breakfast after we had all finished our air-shifts.
In a Ponsonby café, over poached eggs on toast, he said he was having another run at the mayoralty and sought our advice on what he needed to do to change his public image. My contribution was that he had to stop winding people up, stop having what he called “sport” and needed to start showing more of the real John Banks that I knew existed.
About that time I had employed a woman in my magazine business who also knew John Banks. She was a widow with a young son. She told me about the death of her husband and on the day of his funeral from the family home she was aware of a near neighbour, who she didn’t know, standing on the front step of his house, watching the funeral procession leave. She didn’t know who he was. Her situation was desperate. Not only had she lost her husband, but she was penniless, jobless and had an infant son to raise.
Later the man from across the road knocked at her door, introduced himself, gave her an envelope and said “if I can be of any further help, please let me know.” The envelope contained a sum of money. The man was John Banks and he remained a friend and mentor to that woman and her son for many years.
I knew that story and was also aware of Banskie’s love for his wife, their three adopted sons and his deep value for his secure family life.
I knew there was much private and good about John Banks — much more than the public Banksie that swerved between being outrageous, offensive and goofy.
I knew he needed to show much more of the secret John Banks.
After that, from time to time I would get a phone call — “How am I going? Am I doing it right?” He was a much improved public performer — much more inclusive, but still inclined to make the occasional mistake.
His second term as Auckland mayor was much more successful and he should have been mayor of the new super-city. But he wasn’t and another tilt at the position now seems unlikely. Despite the current hoo-hah, that is still Auckland’s loss.
I don’t know what the outcome of this current bunfight will be. I suspect there will be an investigation and he will have shown to have taken advantage of the ”loophole” that we have only really heard about in passing. But the damage has already been done.
For some reason, John’s (and I use his Christian name on purpose) behaviour through this has been bizarre. If we had had poached eggs on toast in a Ponsonby café, this time I would have told him to back right down at the start, admit that made a mistake had been made over Sky City’s donation and defuse the situation. Instead we have had the Banksie of old, sticking his chin out, winding people up, but this time without the assuredness of previous times. He’s made a mess of it and the vultures are circling.