John Key now has no choice but to act on Aaron Gilmore, but at the same time has to protect is narrow majority in parliament. Someone has to hatch a deal
I haven't bothered to write about the Aaron Gilmore scandal because, well, it didn't seem like much of a scandal and this week I didn't feel much like kicking a man while he was down. But now it's interesting to consider what the National Party and its leaders may do, because their options have diminished dramatically.
Gilmore comes across as a type – if he was English he'd be a comic toff with teeth and a laugh that are unnaturally large. He'd have no self-awareness but lots of self-absorption. Clearly, he can be a bully. His behaviour with the Hamner waiter showed us that. But there are plenty of public figures who can turn into jerks and bullies when they've had a few. Or when they don't like the interview you've done or the story you've written. That's not a sacking offence.
He also thinks highly of himself; more highly than the evidence suggests is warranted. The patronising emails sent when he was contracting for the Department of Housing and Building show that. But he was already on National's list and he's not the only one in that line-up to have an inflated view of self, so c'est la vie.
The problem, of course, is that the cover-up has been, as usual, worse than the crime.
In the first case it appears, on Andrew Riches' word and the subsequent texts, that he lied when he said he didn't use his influence with the Prime Minister, such as it is, to get the waiter sacked. And now, tonight, we know in the second case he did lie about the complaints that arose from his emails to a colleague at Housing and Building.
Documents show he was spoken to about the complaint and that his contract wasn't extended due to his behaviour. Asked directly if there had been issues in that job he said, ""No, no, no, look no complaints or issues have ever been raised with me, alright."
National can't have an MP who is being accused of being a liar on national television. And yet they technically can't remove him from parliament; the best they can do is expel or suspend him from the party. He has the right to stay as an independent MP if that happens.
National will be relieved to be able to blame their inaction on the rules of MMP, because otherwise they look weak. John Key has, frankly, looked distracted and weak in his handling of the affair thus far. He'd love to come down on him like a tonne of bricks, but he can't. And not because of any MMP rules, but due to the first rule of politics. Numbers.
National's majority is 61-60, including Peter Dunne and John Banks. Lose a vote and they can't guarantee winning a vote in the House. It's safe for the Budget and many other votes, thanks to its deal with the Maori Party. But the Maori Party are not anybody's idea of a sure bet. So National still needs Gilmore.
You might say that even as an independent, Gilmore is hardly likely to suddenly change his stripes and start voting against the government. But would you want to take that risk?
As one example, the Sky City vote is coming up in the not too distant. The Maori Party will vote against, so National needs every other vote, or the deal it's fought so hard for is dead in a ditch and all that political capital has been spent for nothing.
So National needs Gilmore. Or the next person on its list. So where the party thought it could once tough out the storm, it now has few options. Gilmore, exacerbating his earlier sins has called Key's bluff and not resigned, embarrassing his leader. So Key has to be seen to do something.
The discussions between Peter Goodfellow, other party stalwarts and Gilmore this weekend will be all about that. Can the party suspend him, but keep him loyal with the carrot of reinstatement should he behave? I wonder if that rubicon's been crossed.Can they suspend him and offer some other deal to guarantee his vote? Or can they, ideally, convince him to resign?
When you think about it through that lens, Gilmore has some real power in these negotiations due to the narrow majority and by his willingness to stay put and tough it out despite the condemnation of his peers.
So he has to important questions to ask himself. First, are the emails the last of it or is there more that could come out? If there's more to come, only resignation can save him and his family from more criticism and shame, because journalists are out there digging. If he's confident the worst is past, he could stick it out. I mean, if he leaves now what does he do? He's poison. But if he leaves in a year after the fuss has died down, it's much easier to rehabilitate himself.
Which leads to the next question. If National really wants him gone (and he's willing to leave), then Gilmore has to figure out what he wants in return. Here the party machine may be able to help. Is there a National Party member with a company in Christchurch – or better, London or Vladivostok – who would offer him a job in return for a favour? Could the party offer him a future of some kind beyond politics. Because one of the core questions for Gilmore will be, if I go, what do I do, how do I earn more millions for my family?
So this weekend, if it hasn't already, there will be quiet words had, horse-trading done and deals offered. John Key needs to look stronger quickly, so it won't be long before we get a sense of how they played out. But rest assured, this is a game driven by numbers, and doesn't Gilmore know it.