´Dirty Politics´ is Nicky Hager´s newest book which broadly claims that the government runs an attack type campaign using bloggers like Whale Oils Cameron Slater to attack those they don’t like.
Hager alleges that the National party resorts to the U.S. Republican tactic of a ´two track strategy´ where the leader of a party presents themselves as being clean and above the cynical side of politics whilst vigorously and systematically attacking their opponents.
Hager believes Prime Minister John Key has conspired in branding himself as a friendly and relaxed leader whilst employing his second track tactic of collaborating with a bunch of proxies – Cameron Slater and the like – to attack his opponents.
In its entirety three major allegations arise in the book that warrant close attention.
The first is why blogger Cameron Slater was given declassified Security Intelligence Service documents refused to reporters.
Hager claims that Slater was tipped off by Prime Minister John Key´s staff to ask for the papers.
SIS provided the briefing notes to Slater within a week of his Official Information Act request, but declined to release them to the Dominion Post.
The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security will now investigate the claims after concerns were raised by the Green party.
Key has repeatedly denied his office asked for the OIA request to be fast-tracked and he is welcoming the investigation.
“At the end of the day, we are very confident in the position [that] the SIS themselves have been running that process themselves independently, and they have been commenting that everything was absolutely above board.
“But the really good thing is the Inspector General will be able to have a look and clarify it for everyone,” Key said.
Secondly, Hager claims that John Key´s longest term press officer – Jason Ede – broke into the Labour party computers and meticulously hunted for ´political dirt´ to coordinate with Cameron Slater while he launched the information on his blog site.
However, Hager is unsure whether the so called ´hacking´ was legal or not.
All governments release information that serves their purposes in politics – that is a democratic political norm.
However, Hager´s concern is that bloggers tend to attack their opponents more personally and with more ´dirt´ because they are not constrained by ethical standards like journalists in the press gallery.
Although most New Zealanders would prefer a clean political environment, the salient question here is whether or not the current government hacked their opponent’s computers and fed information to Cameron Slater.
John Key responded by clarifying that Jason Ede hasn’t been a press officer for six years and that this is one fact, among many, that Hager has got wrong.
The final, and perhaps most damaging, allegation in ´Dirty Politics´ is regarding Minister Judith Collins who inappropriately passed on details about public servant Simon Pleasants to Cameron Slater.
The day after receiving those details in 2009, Slater launched a vicious online campaign against Mr. Pleasants – who he suspected of working with Labour to embarrass Finance Minister Bill English.
John Key has put Judith Collins on her second final warning in five months over her rather unwise collusion with the Whale Oil Blogger.
Ironically, Hager admits that he received the information for the book from a source who illegally broke into Cameron Slater´s computer.
Nicky Hager is an author and investigative journalist who resides in Wellington.
A brief overview of his publishing history from ´Secret Power´ to ´Dirty Politics´ showcases that Hager is ideologically cemented on the left, if not extreme left, of the political spectrum.
This does not mean that those who don’t share his political standpoint ought to automatically dismiss his new book as a ´left-wing conspiracy theory´ but it does mean that his history in many ways colors his present.
Prime Ministers Response
Prime Minister John Key responded by labeling Hager as a left-wing conspiracy theorist and by claiming it is the left who are engaging in dirty politics because of their weak policy arguments.
Key believes that Hager´s book is a cynically timed distraction, one month out from election, to divert New Zealand’s political debate away from important issues like economic policy and education.
“The guy has a perspective, he’s got a particular world-view, fair enough but that’s his world view and it’s not right.
“This is a guy with a proven track record to make up lots of theories and get them wrong”, Key said.
Mr. Key has admitted that the National party communicates with bloggers and that this is just part of living in a modern world where the media asks the PM questions that come straight off blog sites but that in the end these blog sites run their own deal.
There is no doubt that Hager´s polarising new book has dealt the biggest blow to National on their election campaign so far.
The PM clearly has a ´nothing to see here´ strategy in relation to the allegations.
History reminds Key that Hager released a book ´Seeds of Distrust´ attacking Helen Clark’s government in 2002. Then Labour went on to thump National in the election.
Key also knows that if he was to sack Minister Judith Collins it would open up the floodgates and could legitimise the books other allegations.
That is the last thing Key wants considering Election Day is less than a month away.
Key is focused on returning the political debate back to policy and another week of ´Dirty Politics´ scandals could be disastrous for National.
Some voters, perhaps more in the heartland, will be appalled by some of the allegations.
Many voters, perhaps in the metropolitan areas, never thought politics stopped being dirty.
Some on the left have over-heated the allegations with comparisons to Watergate. That is flat out wrong and reeks of desperation.
Although ´Dirty Politics´ is unlikely to be the killer-blow that the left so eagerly yearn for, one thing the book has succeeded in doing is widening the divide between the left and the right