The ideological journey of John Banks

By   /   June 11, 2014  /   14 Comments

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John Banks is an easy, kickable target for the left, now that he is down and out. I would prefer to make some reflective observations.

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John Banks is an easy, kickable target for the left, now that he is down and out. I would prefer to make some reflective observations. Here was a political chameleon whose ideological journey reveals major shifts in our economic and political history. Before recounting this journey, let me outline an ideological map with which to make sense of Banks` political transmutations.

There are two ideological axes running at right angles to each other. The economic axis spans from Marxism, socialism and social democracy to neo liberalism and free market libertarianism. The other axis incorporates moral issues in relation to social identity and behaviour ie race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, religious values, use of recreational drugs etc. Here the continuum spans from extreme moral conservatism to radical social liberalism. The two axes form a quadrant which allows us to ideologically position individuals, groups and parties.

Economic socialists, for example, might gravitate toward moral conservatism, social liberalism or somewhere in the middle. Some moral conservatives have socialist economic beliefs while others are neo liberal. As we will see, ones position on the quadrant can change and different sectors of the quadrant are more or less `mainstream` at different points in history.

So, let us proceed. From a family life of poverty, criminality and childhood dislocation Banks joined the National Party. During his first election campaign for Roskill (1978) and his second, successful , campaign for Whangerei (1981), Robert Muldoon ruled the land. Initially, Banks concurred with the then Tory economic orthodoxy but became drawn to the new monetarist philosophies being espoused by Derek Quigley and various wealthy businessmen. His moral views were consistently reactionary. Banks resolutely opposed the emergent social movements of the day; Maori nationalism, feminism, gay liberation, anti-apartheid activism and ecological activism. This was not an unusual outlook at the time,especially within the National Party.

During the 1980s and 1990s the ideological ` mainstream` shifted to the right in economics and toward social liberalism on moral issues. Banks` developing neo liberal views were reflected in his long standing antipathy to Winston Peters (a conservative economic nationalist). From 1992 Banks` morally reactionary rhetoric was routinely heard on his Sunday afternoon, Radio Pacific talk back show. Enthusiasm for hardline policing and longer sentences was interspersed with hectoring attacks against lesbians, homosexuals, Maori radicals and the unemployed. In 1995 his fellow National Party MP John Carter rang the programme impersonating a workshy Maori called Hone. Humorous for the host and his listeners but less so for many other New Zealanders.

After being a Cabinet Minister under the Bolger government for Police, Tourism and Sport Banks resigned his portfolios in opposition to National`s 1996 coalition with Winston Peters and New Zealand First. After retiring from National politics in 1999 Banks entered local body politics in 2001 winning the Auckland mayoralty. After an acrimonious defeat by Dick Hubbard in 2004 Banks regained the Mayoralty in October 2007. It was then that the real ideological contortions began.

The John Banks of 2004 partially privatised Auckland airport, proposed a massive motorway project, the Eastern Transport Corridor and maintained a bellicose style of leadership. During the 2007 Mayoral campaign the motorway project was dropped, qualified support was given to the `Hero Parade` and the general tone was friendly and inclusive. John Banks Mark ll was adapting to social liberal trends; the legalisation of gay sex (and later prostitution) did not generate a backlash and ecological concerns, not least among the Remuera bourgeoise, tempered the earlier `roads-at–any-cost` mentality. Banks` economic views accorded with National Party neo liberalism and he supported their push for an Auckland `supercity`.

His deluded 2010 campaign to become the first `supercity` Mayor was the cause of his later downfall. He was never going to win over large swathes of south and west Auckland voters, regardless of his desperate search for campaign funding from Dot Com, Sky Casino and other potential donors. This lack of political objectivity would tell in the end.

In May 2011 Banks joined ACT and stood successfully in the Epsom electorate after a well publicised cup of tea with the Prime Minister. Subsequently, Don Brash resigned as ACT leader and the Party trustees voted in Mr Banks. By this stage Banks` ideological positioning was sharply at odds with his own ideological beliefs. Even the cleverest political chameleon would find it hard to square their belief in Genesis creationism with the views of an avowedly secular, libertarian party ( Jamie Whyte, I suspect, will be happy to see Banks go). At the same time, one wonders what an earlier John Banks of talkback fame, would have made of his later incarnation`s support for the gay marriage bill.

And then we have the meeting with Dot Com. Desperate for campaign cash in a race he was determined to win, John retrospectively feigned amnesia. He couldn`t exactly remember riding in a helicopter or visiting a large Coatesville mansion. This was the tipping point for most New Zealanders, credibility was irrevocably broken. And, any public sympathy that there was, had nowhere to go. Was there a real John Banks to feel sorry for? Someone whose flaws were well meaning and their principles consistent over time? Banks` ideological journey has reached the end; its contradictions and personal damage laid bare.

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  1. Walter McIntosh says:

    I showed an hour long tape of John Bank’s TV Talk show to a professional forensic psychologist in Hawai’i , who had the firm opinion that under any sort of close mental health examination that Bank’s would likely to been found clinically insane .

    • Kingi says:

      I remember a North and South mag cover from about 1994 or so that asked “Is John Banks Mad?”

  2. richarquis says:

    Banks was an easy target long before his downfall. Recent events are not the catalyst for the current sentiment – They are merely evidence that he was indeed an ignoble ass.

  3. Thomas the Less says:

    In 1988 I paid a flying three-week visit to New Zealand to see if I wanted to migrate here from the UK.

    One of the things I recall from that trip was passing through Wellington Airport, where going through a doorway I passed a man going the other way. He said nothing, didn’t even acknowledge me and I had no idea who he was but all my visceral alarms sounded loudly – a rare event – and I gave him as wide a berth as the geography allowed. Had we been forced to share a room for any period I would have been very wary of him and could never have been comfortable in his presence because of a sense of ‘wrongness’ – that what I was seeing wasn’t what was actually there while what was really there beneath the short, smart but rather ‘greasy’ exterior was both shifting and shifty.

    At the time I assumed he was just one of the hoard of commercial travellers/con artists that throng any airport looking for pastures new to pollute, and it was only two years later when I finally settled in New Zealand and began to learn its ‘personalities’ that I realised it had been John Banks.

    • kevin says:

      I had a similar experience when I first met him too at the opening of the open air swimming pool on Tamaki drive.
      He came across as an absolute arse hole.

      Why is the MSM so nice to this guy?
      He treated ‘you’ like you were scum, insulted your intelligence (e.g. Cabbage boat remark) , gave smart Alec remarks to avoid answering your Q’s, etc etc. And now you all comment about his harsh upbringing etc. to garner sympathy.
      They guy got caught, he probably did a LOT worse that he wasn’t caught doing and was the ‘pull up the ladder now I’m doing well type’…..which is probably why JK likes him so much.

      Surely you can think of some thing more useful to write about?????

  4. Grant says:

    Let’s not forget ,as Minister of Police, how he aided in the stiching up of poor old Peter Ellice, (not to mention all the other hard working child care workers who lost their jobs and reputations), with his red neck paranoiac comments before the Christchurch Civic crèche case.
    All purely for political gain and to show that he was ‘The Man.’
    It never ceases to amaze me how people are continually sucked in by marketing.Put a ‘y’ on the end of some ones name and they instantly think he’s a ‘good joker’, ‘a man of the people’.
    It just makes me want to run a mile in the opposite direction!

  5. James Thrace says:

    “After an acrimonious defeat by Ron Hubbard in 2004 Banks regained the Mayoralty in October 2007.”

    I think you mean Dick Hubbard

    Unless you think Banks ran against a long dead scientologist.

  6. adam says:

    I think he is a great example of the failure of right-wing ideology. They are creepy, vague and they love money. Ray Davies said it best, and Banks sure did worship at the alter.

  7. Pete says:

    “Banks` ideological journey has reached the end.”

    His journey included 18 years as MP for Whangarei, 12 of those years as a Government MP and six of those years as a Minister.

    If it is the time for reflective observations how about his legacy to his original electorate?

    There will be all the usual platitude about a “great local MP” which means grateful constituents will testify to the bread and butter help given for bread and butter issues and problems. Nothing remarkable, what we should expect.

    Answer the question with some questions though. Why, if a solid background of interest, work and influence was involved over such a long period, is Whangarei such a depressed area? Why if there was such a grip on the area are there generations of alienated young Maori? Why after such a long tenure and proximity to the power in the country has a dose of Banks’ medicine needed to be prescribed for the district – two charter schools?

    The second and third of those questions lead me to conclude Banks was a political poseur. His final demise might be “highlighted” by the Dot Com and court room stuff but for me there is a striking lowlight in ending whatever sort of journey he has been on.

    That he could be at or near the helm of Government as his (former) neighbourhood got to where it is and then feign being the Great Knight on his big charger coming in to help and save the poor young brown folk is appalling. No doubt the people involved will make the best of the present circumstances but he has abused the north again using them as pawns in his political game.

    In the 80’s when he acted like a yapping dog in Parliament I was embarrassed that he was our representative and through the country people would ask about him and scoff at and deride his antics.

    All these years later the long journey is over and the one whose driving force was most likely a huge inferiority complex leaves me reflecting that there’s a lot for him to feel inferior about.

  8. Sly Dixon says:

    My dear departed Dad stopped his car on the Napier-Taupo Road to write ‘John Banks is a dangerous moron’ in his diary in what must have been 1981 on hearing him on the 1YA in Parliament. Nothing for me has ever challenged the complete veracity of that insight. The change of heart on gay rights was a classic example of how the man would do absolutely anything for a vote. I don’t believe for a minute that he had changed his fundamentalist bigoted opinion but he knew it wasn’t a vote winner. I dance on his political grave.

  9. Tiger Mountain says:

    Banksie’s trajectory?

    Arsehole to super arsehole to convicted arsehole.

    His legacy will hopefully be the end of ACT in the NZ parliament.

  10. Jax says:

    Hectoring attacks on many vulnerable people. Sibilant abusive hisses, little ratty eyes beadily staring and the most bizzare comments I have heard in some time to excuse his actions and behaviour is how I will remember John Archibald Banks ex Police Minister and Mayor gone bad and arrogantly
    uncontrite.If only much of what was passed on his ‘vote’ could be reversed.
    He has much more to answer for than one fraudulent signature
    in my opinion but it will do!
    Great article.

  11. Te Kupu says:

    You think there are NOT right wingers kicking him now? This guy is corrupt and anyone supporting him for this current self-inflicted shot to the head and decades of b.s. need to stop defending the indefensible!

  12. Marc says:

    I am a “pure a**ehole, Banks is my name, my honour”