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.