By Stephen Franks*
Media keep asking John Key whether John Banks will get the "cuppa tea" endorsement to nudge him past Paul Goldsmith. Read John Key's transcripts carefully and it is clear he already has, though wisely downplaying the idea that his wishes are decisive.
National wants John Banks in Parliament because National runs risk averse election campaigns. There is a real risk that National could rue the absence of even one friendly face in the new Parliament, despite current indications of a clear victory. This election could see more National leaning votes wasted than ever before.
Very senior National people recognise too that MMP politics requires parties outside the centre to float and push for necessary but unpopular reforms. Centre brand parties will strictly ration the number of allergy-inducing policies they can risk being branded with.
The "ideas parties" have to do ideas heavy lifting. Roger Douglas and ACT kept alive the debate on many important questions. For example, now that youth unemployment is topical, it is easy to forget that only ACT supported youth rates through long periods when neither major party was willing to risk debating it. Modern "brand-based" electioneering means that even an allegedly "broad-church" party will risk open intra-party debate on very few sensitive issues.
Such debates have to be conducted inter-party.
That does not mean the participants enjoy it. So there is some leading circle National sentiment to put a stake through ACT's heart if ACT has not reached 2% in the polls. They argue that most ACT votes just come from National anyway, and that wasting below 2% of the right vote would be worth the cost this election.
That is short term confidence at work, not rational calculation. It owes something to primitive resentment at the apostasy of voters who should be "theirs" and years of irritation as ACT people have embarrassed them over National's centre-hugging departures from the founding principles of the National Party.
Saner counsel is likely to prevail.
If Colin Craig's Conservative Party does hoover up anywhere near the 4 % that supported the schismatic Christian parties in our first two MMP elections, and Peters gets his 2% (or more as he cranks up his false claim to be the only party against racist seabed and foreshore law changes - ignoring John Boscawen and ACT's consistent demand for colourblind law), and Peter Dunne his 1%, any extra member ACT can bring in could be vital. The wasted votes that would likely prefer a National-led government could otherwise go over 6%.
We could see more than one "cuppa tea". If Peters gets to say 2.5% and Colin Craig is getting over 3% in the party vote, and, and former ACT voters come to their senses to realise ACT is still needed, whatever their disappointment with Dr Brash, then John Banks will think about a tea party.
If Colin Craig is doing as well as he claims personally in Rodney, then he and John Banks could together invite John Key for tea.
* Stephen Franks is a commercial and public lawyer who represented the ACT Party in Parliament from 1999 to 2005 as its justice and commerce spokesman. He also stood for the National Party in the 2008 election as its Wellington Central candidate.
He writes his own blog at stephenfranks.co.nz.