Summary of “Dirty Politics” and dirty politics

A detailed summary by Bryce Edwards: A year of (neverending) Dirty Politics.

This gives an extensive overview of the “Dirty Politics” campaign that tried to swing an election and failed, and dirty politics surrounding it and dominating the political year.

Edwards quotesd a wide range of bloggers but some of the best commentary comes from seasoned journalists like Rob Hosking at NBR.

In fact, wasn’t the problem with the delivery of Dirty Politics that it became too enmeshed in partisan politics? This is the argument put forward by Rob Hosking:

‘The country’s opposition partisans – and I include Dirty Politics author Nicky Hager himself in that group – have screwed this up royally. A mix of arrogance, self righteousness and incompetence have allowed important questions to go largely unanswered.

So convinced of their own righteousness and so convinced of the self-evident evil of Prime Minister John Key, they have, throughout this entire saga, opted to shout and sneer rather than seek to convince’ – see: Dirty Politics: the aftermath (paywalled).

That sums it up well. “Dirty Politics was a partisan campaign plonked into an election. This approached detracted from the much wider and very important issue of dirty politics in general.

Some in politics thinks that dirtiness is just the way things sometimes work. I don’t think we should accept this in a modern democracy. We should demand better of all parties and politicians.

Hosking says that the revelations in Dirty Politics were too important to become partisan fodder: ‘You will never get any point of principle across if you drench your point in partisan bile and personal attacks. All you will do is make it look like politics – dirty politics – as usual’.

He calls for a more principled approach on the issues: ‘It is time they were treated as matters of principle, and not just ways of achieving partisan advantage’.

There is no sign of a more principled approach in the wake of the election – and for those still campaigning with “Dirty Politics” post-election was a virtual wake, the death of their hopes of a change of government.

And Simon Wilson in Metro:

But one of the best accounts of the impact – or lack of impact – of Dirty Politics comes in the latest Metro magazine out today. Simon Wilson has a feature on John Key, which argues that the PM ‘rode the wave of discontent brilliantly. His consistent message was that New Zealanders would far rather discuss “the issues that really matter”: jobs, growth, economic and social wellbeing’. 

What’s more, according to Wilson, ‘when the book came out, National quickly refocused on Hager. Their claim that he’s a conspiracy theorist not only belittled him and distracted attention from the accusations in the book, it served to smear anyone else who asked about dirty politics: were they part of the conspiracy too? By the time the last week arrived, even Hager had been sidelined’.

Wilson shows how after the election, National has actually managed to turn the tables, and ‘invoke the “dirty politics” smear’. And in contrast, a strong line is being pushed about Key being the most honest and transparent politician around.

I don’t think Key is “the most honest and transparent politician around” by a long shot, but he is far from alone in being involved in doing dirty politics.

Because “Dirty Politics” was used as a partisan election campaign it has been easy to turn it back on it’s promoters, especially as they’re playing dirty against critics or criticism of their one sided approach.

Unfortunately this all leaves the issue of confronting crap and improving political behaviour still inadequately addressed.

Goff, leaks, lies and sincerity

(Further to Goff apologises, media warned over leak)

Last month details of the Gwyn/SIS report were leaked to media the day before it could legally be publicised. Phil Goff was an obvious suspect but he was cleared by new Labour leader Andrew Little.

“He’s given me those assurances, I’m satisfied with that,” he said on Firstline this morning.

“He hasn’t given the report to anybody, he declined media interviews until the report was released at 10am yesterday, so I don’t know where they came from and I’m satisfied they didn’t come from Phil Goff.”

- Goff: SIS report leak ‘perfectly appropriate’

However it was later revealed that Goff had been the leaker, so either Goff lied to Little or Little lied to media. And Goff was unrepentant.

“What I did was perfectly appropriate, if the journalists decided to run information given to them in confidence then you should raise it with your colleagues,” Goff told Radio New Zealand at the time.

Goff had changed his stance by last week.

Goff signalled in an interview last week, that he had apologised .

“I beat the gun on the embargo. I shouldn’t have done that,” he said.

“I’ve apologised to the inspector-general. The ball is in her court [as to legal action]. I’ll take it on the chin, whatever her decision is. I haven’t tried to lie about it or mislead people on it.

“[I] shouldn’t have done it…I’ll accept any consequences.”

Today Inspector General Cheryl Gwyn said Goff’s leak was no appropriate.

“All witnesses, including Mr Goff, were subject to a confidentiality order of the inspector-general,”  IGIS said in a statement.

“The order was made to ensure fairness and the integrity of the inquiry. The disclosure of the report by Mr Goff was in breach of the order.”

And Goff has ‘unreservedly’ apologised.

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has accepted Labour MP Phil Goff’s “unreserved apology” for leaking a Security Intelligence Service report to media.

Mr Goff gave a verbal and written apology and Ms Gwyn says no further action will be taken.

Goff apologises for SIS report leak

And Goff has said:

And I guess my enthusiasm led me to make some more comment than I should have.

That downplays the fact that he breached a confidentiality agreement.

I gave information that was not going to damage anybody.

In his opinion. Is that Goff’s Law of Leak Justification?

Ah what happened in John Key’s office was that that was part of a smear campaign.

So when someone else does it they are smearing, when Goff does it he’s just a bit enthusiastic.

The sincerity of Goff’s apology looks very dubious. First he (or Little) lied about leaking. Then he was unrepentant. Then he “unreservedly apologised”, followed soon afterwards by making excuses and turning it into political point scoring.

Andrew Little has a bit of work to do to reform his caucus.He generally sounds sincere but he will be damaged by association and collaboration with leaks, lies and insincerity like this.

Little shouldn’t be satisfied with what has come from Goff on this both last month and today.

Today Goff has apologised ‘sincerely’ to the

A flag that screams New Zealand

In a speech today John Key promoted the need to explore the possibility of having a new flag.

“When people say they want to keep the flag, it’s not our first flag, it’s New Zealand’s third flag.

“It’s just sheer confusion with Australia. Even at APEC [in China last month] they tried to take me to [Australian Prime Minister Tony] Abbott’s seat.

“The most serious reason is because they say our guys fought and died under that flag. But when you go to the Western front and go and look at the war graves our guys are buried not with the New Zealand flag, it’s the silver fern. Lots of countries change their flags, it’s a representation of who we are and about building national patriotism.

“If you want to look like a Kiwi you don’t put on a t-shirt with our flag on it. I reckon we should change to the fern … without hearing the anthem, without anybody saying anything that just screams New Zealand to you. The current flag does not do that.”

The biggest problem with the current flag is it’s frequent confusion with Australia’s.

From Stuff Flag needs to ‘scream NZ': John Key

Protection versus overstepping powers conundrum

It’s difficult to know what the best balance is between protection against terrorism and violent crime and over-using powers to lock up people who could be a potential risk but have not committed crimes.

Audrey Young reports Sydney siege: Govt must weigh risk, rights – John Key

Prime Minister John Key said the Sydney siege gunman highlighted the conundrum for authorities over protecting citizens against potential terrorism and over-stepping their powers.

Sydney gunman Man Haron Monis was known to security authorities. So too was the Muslim convert in Canada who deliberately killed a Canadian soldier with his car in October, and the two men convicted of hacking British soldier Lee Rigby to death in London last year.

But the fact that someone was on a watch list did not mean they could be detained.

“I suspect they were on lists of people that could present a threat,” Mr Key said. “But the threshold the authorities have to meet before they can detain someone is very high and for very good reason.

“That is the conundrum that the authorities face between over-using or over-exercising their power but on the other side is the declared desire the public will have to be protected.”

Asked if the threshold for detention could be the subject of a comprehensive review beginning next year, he said: “That may be one credible area that they look at.”

They could lower the threshold for detention but that would presumably only apply to people facing charges or convicted.

It wouldn’t guarantee there would be no violent attacks, it’s impossible to prevent every possible risk.

For the most part the review would look at whether the intelligence agencies and other authorities “have enough tools in their toolbox to meet that balance that New Zealanders would want between freedom and liberty, and terrorism”.

Last month Mr Key indicated that 30 to 40 New Zealand residents were on a security agencies’ watch list.

Some were simply raising money to support the terrorist group Isis. Some wanted to leave New Zealand to fight for Isis in Syria and Iraq, “and one or two of them look as though they are at least attracted by the notion of a domestic terror threat”.

As the Sydney cafe siege shows it only takes one nutter to do something stupid. Predicting who is a risk and when they might act is a challenge.

Mr Key acknowledged that the Sydney gunman was a lone wolf terrorist and on one level the threat was quarantined.

“At another level it makes it more unpredictable and difficult to control,” he said.

It’s impossible to control completely.

All we can have is a reasonable balance between protection from attack and protection from intrusive state powers.

It’s easy to criticise the Government for going too far with surveillance and locking people up too much. The Government will also be up for strong criticism if a nutter slips through the net of protection.

As has been shown by the Sydney incident the Australian Government has been criticised for increasing their surveillance powers and they have been criticised for not enough surveillance of one individual resoonsible for the deaths of two innocent members of the public.

It’s a conundrum for Governments who will be damned if the do and damned if they don’t.

Vance’s “Crass opportunism” provokes

Andrew Vance has provoked a lot of comment with Crass opportunism in wake of siege.

OPINION: Is there a better time for political opportunism than in the wake of a “terror” attack?

For Prime Minister John Key it seems not.

The gunsmoke had barely cleared from Sydney’s Martin Pl, than he was doing the rounds of the media this morning.

The Government tried to cash in on public fears when few facts were known regarding the events or gunman Man Haron Monis’ motivation.

She took the opportunity to compare to ‘Five Eyes’,  something she has shown in the past feels very strongly about.

Just last week, Nils Muižnieks, The Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, offered a compelling counter-view.

He condemned “secret, massive and indiscriminate” surveillance being undertaken by the Five Eyes intelligence network, of which New Zealand is a part,saying it “cannot be justified by the fight against terrorism or other important threats to national security”.

She then slams Key.

Now Key is attempt to shape the debate again –  he needs to earn sympathy for a military deployment to Iraq early next year.

His grave tones on breakfast television this morning were reasonable. But he used rhetoric and sentiment commonly employed by US politicians justifying the War on Terror post-9/11, portraying those in his sights as irrational, barbaric and beyond compromise.

It dissuades critical examination and argument, with those questioning him labelled soft or naive.

Other than furthering his own political ends, his comments  were unhelpful and serve only to unnecessarily heighten anxiety in the community.

I think she is misjudging public sentiment after the deaths of the hostages in Sydney.

She concludes:

Key’s crass opportunism is a jarring contrast to the simple generosity of Australians who adopted #illridewithyou.

Some comments supported Vance’s stance but were heavily down ticked. The first by BenM:

Spot on. Thank you Andrea.

Currently -73 ticks.

Jim Smith:

So let me get this right, the media questions him, he answers and now it is him taking an opportunity???

If he didn’t speak at all about the incident you would chastise him for that as well!

Journalists these days make me sick. If anything, the only thing that was crass was fairfax;s reporting of the incident.


There were a number throwing “crass opportunism” back at Vance. Responder:

And as usual Andrea Vance loses no time in making her opportunist attack on John Key.


‘Bcom77′ points out:

I think the media, this site included, do a better job of spreading fear and heighten public anxiety than you accuse John Key of doing.


A few more supported Vance – Havid Dornblow:

Keep the heat on Andrea, this regime deserves no slack. Question all decisions, investigate all motives.


But the thread was dominated by criticism. Christie:

I’m sorry Andrea, but this type of journalism is, quite simply irresponsible. There has just been a siege in Sydney, with 2 hostages dead at the hands of an Islamic radical, who considers himself a member of ISIS. We know there are people of similar ilk in this country.

It follows that it could happen here. Maybe unlikely – but then again, we never thought it would happen in Australia either. This is not political opportunism. This is the PM answering questions about the likelihood of it all happening here.

What is he supposed to say – “No, no – everything is fine – just carry on, there is no big bad wolf here”. What is it going to take to make people like you realise that the threat is real? That we are not immune? Beheadings in Aotea Square?

And for the record, Andrew Little has come out and said much the same thing – but you are not attacking him – are you?


Vance took the opportunity to relate Key’s comments to an international spying hobby horse of hers but yesterday was not a good time to attack surveillance of terrorists and people at risk of doing something crazy.

Key’s response to the deaths like Sydney gave Vance an opportunity to attack Key over wider issues. Whether either was crass is debatable but the backlash against Vance was not surprising in the circumstances.

Most people, especially at times like this, would accept more surveillance of people at risk of doing something stupid and dangerous.

Maintaining security measures versus the possibility (albeit very unlikely) that someone would see their online wafflings is not a big deal to most of us.

A cafe is Sydney is quite close to home for Kiwis.Vance’s stance is a long way away from most sentiments. It’s not surprising to see she provoked a strong backlash against her comments in the wake of the Sydney horror.

(For some more anti-Key opportunism see Vance on Key’s “crass opportunism” at The Standard)

Collins should return as Minister but Williamson unlikely

In an interview on One News’ Breakfast yesterday John Key indicated the chances of Judith Collins and Maurice Williamson returning to ministerial positions.

Somebody who does have a closer relationship with Cameron Slater, no doubt ongoing, is Judith Collins…

John Key: Yeah.

…and it make have been what, you know, what led to her demise effectively by the end of it but we know it was. 

John Key: Yeah.

Tell us about you know you have opened the door a wee bit since being re-elected, or rather since she was cleared…

John Key: Yes.

…to saying one day we’ll see her back. What about herself and Maurice Williamson, I mean realistically   2015, could that be a year that one or both of them could be back up there in the powerhouse with you?

John Key: It’s possible. I mean I think if you take, they’re in different situations probably in their career.

I mean Maurice is getting near the end of his career, um, he’s been a very good Minister …

But he has shown that he would quite like…

John Key: Yeah yeah and he’d like and he’d like, look I think he’d like to do other things. I mean but I’m just saying he’s, I think he’s our longest serving MP, um it doesn’t mean he hasn’t got lots of other good things to do, I’m just slightly different stages.

A fairly clear signal that Williamson should be looking for other things to do.

John Key: In the case of Judith, Judith was a very good Minister. You know people, people attack her and criticise her and yep, she had the persona of being Crusher Collins if you like, but lots of political parties have people that have, you know a slightly tougher personality.

I mean it didn’t stop Trevor Mallard from being a Minister the whole way through, and lots of other people.

The point is that she was actually cleared of the very thing that she stood down for. So can she come back? I think the answer to that is yes.

It sounds like Collins will be strongly considered the next time Key reshuffles his Cabinet. That’s likely to be about a year away at least, unless there’s a resignation in the meantime.

Transcript – Key on media, dirty politics and bloggers

Transcript of part of an interview with John Key on TV One Breakfast this morning on media, dirty politics and his relationship bloggers, especially with Cameron Slater.

But at the same time, you know, your your guys, your lot, your team did bring some of it on yourselves didn’t you, I mean you know the, the, I mean you had to sort of apologise at the end of the day over communications with Cameron Slater, so although the effigy burning and the so called hate stuff was almost a side show there was something which actually you guys have to take responsibility for.

John Key: Well we never denied that we have um communications with a wide range of people, and the media landscape’s changing, so you know what I think some people do get confused with is they say well they can understand the mainstream media, um but they find it a bit odd with bloggers.

And and there’s a sort of a perception out there that somehow Cameron Slater is in a group of his own. You know the left have bloggers which are just as aggressive as Cameron Slater.

So you’re still communicating with Cameron Slater?

John Key: Well I haven’t in in recent times, but but the point is that if you look at it he’s not a big part of my day and bloggers are not a big part of my day, but what is true is that the landscape changes.

And just like if you look at your news, every night on your news you always say and you do on your Breakfast show all the time, go to our website, you know dub dub dub  dot tvnz dot co dot nz.

Do we?

John Key: I’m doing it really well. I guess why you do that is your producers tell you to do that because you’ve got a massive audience and they want you to promote your site.

So all I’m saying to you is I live in a world where I can’t ignore that. A lot of stuff goes through blogs and sites and and politics is an aggressive business, so what ultimately happens is most of the time we’re defending.

I mean I know the Labour Party  want to act is if they’re a bunch of choir boys, but these are the people who sent their president to Australia to investigate me, hired private investigators.

They’ve done every rotten trick in the book and most of the time all we’re trying to do is make sure we defend ourselves against these baseless attacks.

So it’s the nature of politics and I don’t complain about it but it is reality, and for Nicky Hager to get up there and say it’s the National Party and everybody else ah you know great little, you know great little people and they don’t do anything wrong well sorry but it’s not reality.

With the Cameron Slater issue though I mean this sort of came back to the surface even just a few weeks ago, we were talking about it, and a lot of people as a result of that interview said they just don’t understand why you don’t cut him off completely. 

John Key: Well I don’t have a terribly pro-active relationship with the guy now. I mean I don’t, you know don’t text him. If he texts me then you know I’ve responded to him on a few occasions.

Um but look in the end as I’ve said he’s never been a big part of my world. Yeah I could I could stop but I mean I even if I deleted his phone off the system it wouldn’t stop him sending me texts, he knows my number.

And lots of people do. And you might sit there and say well ok you could just change your phone number again. I’m on my fourth mobile phone number  as Prime Minister so and mark my words you would be amazed who gets my number, it’s just out there and people share it.

Bloggers “not a big part” of Key’s day

Speaking on TV1’s Breakfast this morning John Key said that Bloggers ‘not big part of my day’.

Prime Minister John Key says bloggers are not a “big part of his day” but he lives in a world where he can’t ignore them.

Speaking on TVNZ‘s Breakfast programme today, Mr Key said the “ugly” tone of the 2014 general election campaign was the low point of his year.

“It was all kind of hate stuff…the whole thing was just awful.”

Nick Hager’s Dirty Politics book, which covered issues including collusion between Mr Key’s former staffer Jason Ede and right-wing bloggers, was a talking point during the campaign.

This morning, the Prime Minister said he no longer responded to texts from blogger Cameron Slater.

“I don’t have a terribly great relationship with the guy now. I don’t text him if he texts me,” Mr Key said.

“Even if I deleted his phone off the system it wouldn’t stop him sending me a text. He knows my number. A lot of people do,” Mr Key said. “I’m on my fourth mobile phone number as Prime Minister. And mark my words, you’d be amazed who gets my number.”

From what Slater posts at Whale Oil “don’t have a terribly great relationship with the guy now” seems to be reciprocated.

Key has previously said he keeps an eye on several right and left leaning blogs.

The ‘Dirty Politics’ dead horse versus a positive future

The “Dirty Politics” campaign initiated by Nicky Hager’s book dominated a big chunk of the election campaign but it backfired, probably helping John Key and National win as close to one party power that we’ve seen under MMP.

It political scalp of Judith Collins but an inquiry has since cleared her of any serious misconduct, leaving the way open for her to climb back into cabinet next time there’s an opportunity. And her demotion also probably helped more than hindered National’s campaign.

There are significant problems for those who think it’s worth continuing with the largely failed campaign.

  • There is scant substantive evidence and unlikely to be any more.
  • Outside the activist and media bubbles most people don’t care about it.
  • There’s a significant chance of a legal backlash if the hacker is prosecuted, and if associates prove to be political embarrassments.

‘Dirty Politics’ has already missed most of it’s target and in fact backfired as Tracey Watkins and Vernon Small conclude in One bumpy ride of an election:

THE BIG BACKFIRE Hager and Key’s opponents hoped Dirty Politics would put the skids under National’s campaign. It had the opposite effect, driving up support for Key and ensuring National voters turned out in force. A post-election inquiry linked the former boss of the Security Intelligence Service and central figures in Key’s office to an attempt to discredit Labour MP Phil Goff. Would it have made a difference to the outcome if the inquiry had emerged before the election? Probably not.

What now? ‘Dirty Politics’ failed to produce anywhere near enough damning evidence, and it seems that all shots have been fired from that side of the battle lines.

Re-thrashing a dead horse is not likely to be productive. It’s more likely to be counter-productive for Andrew Little to do any more than pop wee reminders into other more substantive discussions.

A Bryce Edwards headline summarises the dirty hubris – A year of controversies that didn’t matter

Most significant of all was Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics, which produced the biggest scandal of the year and helped bring Collins down. The substance of the book will continue to be discussed for some time. But overall, these controversies seemed to produce something of a scandal fatigue for many New Zealanders. The media covered the debates in detail but for most, these simply weren’t issues that mattered. Perhaps the overload of scandal, controversy and personality politics spooked voters.

And between elections nit’s more likely to turn people off politics rather than turn into a triumph for the left – who are hardly innocent of playing dirty politics either, as seen by many voters .

Edwards predicts a continuation of scandal-mongering.

Get ready for more scandals
The public’s scandal fatigue won’t prevent politicians from attempting to create more controversies. Headline-hungry parties will continue to escalate the strong aggression we have witnessed this year.

So expect more scandalmongering. Some of this will be useful – we do need politicians and the media to uncover abuse of power and faults of politicians. But in the end, quality not quantity might be what the public wants from such controversies – that is, scandals that matter. The lesson from this year is that some controversies were more important than others, and that it takes a lot for a controversy to eclipse what voters are really interested in: improving our everyday lives.

A scandal in left wing activist circles and left wing blogs does not make it an issue the public care about. Even efforts by mainstream media to scoop the ratings with scandals are frequently futile.

Crying wolf over and over again makes it less likely rather than more likely yet another over-hyped scandal will break out of the bolshie bubble.

The events covered by ‘Dirty Politics’ were three years ago. Little and Labour need to be focussed on the next three years. They need to be the party of promise, not a party pissing in history.

Cameron Slater keeps promising he’ll strike back hard. Time will tell whether he has anything substantive and whether anyone outside his fan club will take any notice but it’s possible the police will take some legal action against the hacker (or hackers) and perhaps others complicit in the use of illegally obtained communications data.

If Little is as astute as he has shown signs of being he will keep as much distance from any of this as possible. The chances of him being tainted are higher than of scoring a political hit, and even if ‘Dirty Politics’ pulls a success out of the hat the public are likely to continue to see all parties as complicit in the mud slinging.

One of the biggest problems is that if a scandal comes to light that has sufficient evidence and seriousness to genuinely warrant holding politicians to account it’s impact will be severely diminished if it is seen as ‘just another round of mud slinging’.

The left wing social media campaign to associate only Key and National with ‘Dirty Politics’ looks like continuing. Most see it as disconnected from reality as associating only the All Blacks with ‘Playing Rugby’.

‘Dirty Politics’ is as relevant to the next three years as ‘Vote Positive’ – there could be some flow on effect but it was largely a failed campaign slogan.

How about ‘act Positive’? The left wing activists may find it difficult to change entrenched habits but Little and Labour would win much more support if they launch into the next three year campaign looking like a positive alternative.

And John Key needs to get over his annoyance and arrogance and concentrate on getting his Government on being  positive about making New Zealand a bit better.

Positive politics will do far more for people and the country in the future than pissing in the dark past.

Fairfax rates Key generously

Fairfax has rated twenty seven MPs in Front bench report 2014’s winners and losers.

I think John Key’s rating is generous.

John Key: 8.5/10 Secured a sweeping third victory in the teeth of the Dirty Politics allegations and still the party’s most important asset. But has been in danger of breaching his own directive against arrogance, by ducking questions and defending his conversations with WhaleOil blogger Cameron Slater. Feels perverse to ask after such a big win, but is the gloss starting to wear off?

The “sweeping third victory” probably had more to do with a backlash against Kim Dotcom than Key’s performance, which has been patchy and at times poor.

National have been steady under English’s financial management (at least as much as an asset as Key) rather than outstanding.

While I agree with Key’s flagship policy – we should have a chance to decide if we want to retain or change our flag – it’s hardly a major legacy type policy.

Key has to lift his performance and lift his ambitions if he’s to rate more than “was popular and did ok apart from some crap”.

I’d rate him 6/12 for this year’s lumpy effort, with definite room for improvement.


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