Craig Potton Publishing
Nicky Hager’s new book tries to paint “Smiling Assassin” John Key – current Prime Minister of New Zealand – as aware and complicit as part of nasty covert-planned “attack politics”. Dirty Politics is absolutely a worthwhile read – the amount of publicity around it (and its timing; the timing the cause for almost all of the publicity of course) is reason enough to read it. But it’s a stretch to pin Key to this – what Hager uncovers, or at least points out, with so many emails and Facebook messages and ugly, nasty direct quotes is that the behind-the-scenes players chiefly long-serving press officer in the PM’s office Jason Ede, blogger Cameron Slater (aka Whale Oil, from the name of his blog) and political strategist Simon Lusk are unscrupulous, cold hearted, quite possibly evil – certainly vile.
There’s a grab-bag of hideous quotes from all three – Lusk with his hunt-hungry attitude about feeling satisfied when he “wrecks” somebody (we almost feel his sinister bloodlust) and Slater, it’s mentioned in the book that he still identifies as Christian, mocking the survivors of Christchurch’s devastating quakes because they’re Labour-leaning voters and the rest of us shouldn’t have to bail out a bunch of losers. It’s often uncomfortable to read and Hager mentions more than once that he hasn’t included some of the nastiest emails – only wanting to name/shame those that deserve it; only wanting to draw the spotlight on these Shallow Men.
And if Key can’t be tagged without doubt to all of this nastiness and scheming – and he can’t, despite knowledge that he does have/has had a working relationship with Slater and obviously Ede – the real worry that is exposed here is just how horrible Minister Judith Collins is as a person, hell-bent it seems, on one-upmanship, revenge and cruel political power-plays. She is fingered here with supplying plenty of information to Slater and in sounding, via her emails, nothing but cold and ruthless.
Slater’s Whale Oil blog is explained as being not only a right-wing propaganda machine, it’s also a place where Slater is paid to promote tobacco and alcohol lobby work, putting his by-line to work produced by the lobbyists and accepting money for his troubles.
It all paints the picture of the current National Government as power-crazy and driven by a back-room of self-professed puppet masters even more drunk on power and with no light in their eyes and little warmth behind. And ever those links to big business.
The tragedy of Dirty Politics and its reception is that Hager is of course painted, once again, as a left-wing conspiracy theorist crackpot. And that’s about all the right needs to say – its troops well marshalled, most won’t bother reading it – saying they’ve no interest in lies. But it’s impossible to deny the lies and deception that have gone on here; Slater and Lusk working together to manoeuvre Rodney Hide out of his ACT Leader position and – very scrappily – in busting open the Len Brown sex-scandal. Slater, the Christian, seems to have an Achilles’ heel for the sex-scandal, desperate for dirt and poking about to find anything grubby. Ede sneaking about the Labour website, downloading contacts and files.
The tragedy of Dirty Politics and its reception is that it might just cause a few more people to not want to vote and we’re warned early on that Lusk preaches, following an American model, that low-voter turnout favours the right.
The tragedy of Dirty Politics is that whilst it’s not quite the revelation that many in the left are claiming – and sorta clutching at, politics is dirty after all, we should know that already, most of us surely do – it will be chuckled off by many, upheld as some new bible by others. Neither response is correct. Here’s a book that seeks to open the debate, that’s the defence for Hager printing these leaked emails – it’s in the interests of the public, for the ‘public good’. We’re seeing some questions being asked already – particularly pressure on Key to justify his standing by Collins. But the real warning here isn’t really for the left, it’s for centre-right and right or right-leaning voters. Many of them will tell you that John Key is a great, honest bloke. When time and again it’s been shown that honesty isn’t quite how he plays. What they can’t comprehend, it would seem, is that in the next decade if this nastiness backstage isn’t addressed their party will be further right than many of them will actually feel comfortable with.
Politics is always going to be tough, stroppy, often petty and silly – but the dirt that comes out in Dirty Politics is for the most part stubborn and repugnant. It makes you think little of the principal protagonists as people. As if politics, Christianity and journalism needed any more mud flung in their direction – but that’s what’s happening. Slater, Ede, Lusk and Collins are characters you couldn’t ever quite make up. You’d feel sick inside if you tried.
Dirty Politics might seem a magic act of timing – and in the way it was veiled, its secrecy, its clever play that left the Government on the back-foot, Key even floundering in some of the recent interviews. But that ‘magic act’ feel doesn’t mean the book is not real. And even if Hager seeks desperately to link things at times, his supposition almost the very long bow – it doesn’t mean he’s lied or made things up. He’s just looking for answers. We all should be.
At its best Dirty Politics is a warning. At its worst it’s still an easy – if jarring and uncomfortable – read. And, you would think this is obvious but, it’s certainly necessary to read this to have any opinion on it.