Some have likened events to Watergate, and adjusting to the scale of New Zealand, that is not outlandish. Just as Nixon had no need for dirty tricks to be re-elected, neither did Key. But given how Key and National viewed the political situation, dirty tricks, while still being repugnant to the fair-minded, have a kind of rationality. National wanted to do more than rule, it wanted to rule unfettered by MMP. The main target of National’s sleaze was Labour, but the main purpose was to keep New Zealand First out of the parliamentary equation.
The sleaze orchestrated by Jason Ede, political operative from the prime minister’s office (he is now employed by the National Party), was based on a two-track policy developed from USA Republican Party tactics, then fitted to New Zealand circumstances by John Ansell and Mark Textor, extreme professional right-wing consultants, also Simon Lusk, a hard right-wing local consultant for hard right-wing National candidates. That two-track policy was based on keeping the leader clean, everything deniable, while political operatives did their work in the shadows. Nicky Hager’s book reveals this policy in all its disturbing detail.
At the centre of this sleaze of dirty tricks were the combinations of Ede-Key and Cameron Slater-Judith Collins. For Key, the dirty tricks replicating his experience as a money trader, and for Collins a way to express her hard right aspirations – for both an expression of their underlying unpleasant personalities. The dirty tricks exposed in Hager’s book should not be seen in isolation but as part of the symptoms of corruption occurring throughout the political system – simply at another level. Below the goings-on of Ede-Key and Slater-Collins are toxic piles of unscrupulous, cruel behaviour in all parts of government activity, made possible by the powers of state available to Key and his reputation as a nice guy.
No matter what part of government activity one looks at, nothing is as it seems. When a new government eventually wins office, all these things will come to the surface. In some instances there will be a need for something akin to a truth and reconciliation process. When historians look back, the Key era will be seen, I suggest, as having the smugness of the Keith Holyoake era (with all its lost opportunities) with the nastiness, but far sneakier, of the Sid Holland era.
At the centre of the sleaze, of course, is Slater with his combination of vicious personal attacks, smears, sex-related innuendo, and payment by lobbyists for propaganda, especially ones for alcohol, tobacco, and against unions, obesity, health campaigns, even breast feeding. The main lobbyist was Carrick Graham, son of Doug Graham. Then there was David Farrar, who was deeply involved in all this as a blogger and National Party strategist, but who played nice guy to Slater’s nasty one – the acceptable face of sleaze. Wallowing in all this was Collins. Then there was Aaron Bhatnagar who did sleaze work of various kinds (including finding a way in to Labour Party websites) and who, after complaining that Judith had not rewarded him was given chairmanship of the Real Estate Agents Authority; also Katherine Rich who as CEO of Food Grocery Council became part of the sleaze group to fight regulations against tobacco, liquor, obesity, and health generally. She was rewarded by being appointed to the Board of the Health Promotion Council. (Remember Anne Tolley scrapping food regulations for school canteens – are you joining the sleaze dots?) Then there was Slater’s grubbing around for sex smears of Len Brown – not for the public good, but to support his candidate for mayor.
Slater was fed information from government ministries, provided with the names of individuals the government wanted attacked, and tipped off about information to be obtained under the OIA (as were other journalists from time-to-time). The information was used against selected journalists, the political left, unionists, school principals, and health regulations, also health professionals who supported those regulations. An opponent might be set up by a soft question (for instance, from Rachel Glucina), then Ede would provide Slater and other journalists with precise OIA details and the promise of speedy service to close the trap. On the basis of the vicious illogic of the education editorials of the Herald and Dominion, I would bet dollars to donuts the editors concerned would have also been briefed by Ede.
These are not nice people – when you finish the book Dirty Politics, you feel like a shower.
One of Ede’s involvements that most disgusts me was the way Ede, Slater, Graham, and Farrar, also no doubt Collins, connived to remove an existing government agreement providing a small element of protection to the conditions and pay of those cleaning government offices.
Then there was Ede’s involvement with Slater to smear the Labour Party donor Owen Glenn. Slater e-mailed Glucina to ‘dig out some girl stories … who he has shagged or tried to get in the sack.’ He went on to say, ‘If you can’t find any then make it up …’ Such attacks were a standard part of Slater’s way of working. Slater also regularly e-mailed an ex-prostitute friend to do the rounds of the Auckland brothels to get some left-wing targets.
And as a final touch of awfulness was Key’s prompt for Slater to write that a young man being killed in a car crash ‘made the world a better place’ – simply because his mother had annoyed Key at Pike River meetings.
Key was close to Slater, part of the mix with Ede – as Key said: ‘I contacted him regularly to see what was on his site and mind.’ A New Zealand prime minister reasonably close to an individual like Slater is unconscionable: leaving aside Holland and Muldoon, can you imagine any other prime minister mixing with him?
New Zealand, after six years of Key, has been corrupted by the sleaze and dirty tricks to a different kind of New Zealand. Behind the glossy image promoted by Team Key is Sleaze Key which has been instrumental in constructing a secret network for controlling New Zealand with the corruption of state services, departmental authoritarianism, a creeping control of media, hard-line appointments to key positions, corrupted numbers, heavily laden hidden-agenda policies, sinisterly composed advisory groups, the undermining of academic independence, state sponsored lying and distortion, the structural indoctrination of children, the isolation of individuals and groups for bullying, restructured institutions for control, contracted obedience … and fear.
And Key is at it again in his smearing of the NZEI vote against IES – saying it was political and because NZEI was in Labour’s pocket. Yet, the vote was fair, informed, overwhelmingly against, and with the support of most primary boards of trustees, a majority of the public, and the overwhelming support of parents. They’re a union, Key was saying. They’d better watch out. We might legislate to make them co-operate, he said. This was the Key acting on the behaviours as listed in the paragraph above. This is the bully at work. This is the hidden agenda typical of Key’s policies being exposed – it is not about either the teachers or the children, it is about setting up another layer of bureaucracy to control teachers, silence teachers and shape education in the philosophical image of Key and his friends.
This is what the election should be about – not about the sleaze and dirty tricks themselves – but about the kind of New Zealand that the sleaze and dirty tricks have allowed to develop, are symptomatic of. Look at the people Key, through Ede, was involved with – the children of the rich, a group with an overwhelming sense of entitlement, the children of Cullen’s ‘rich pricks’ – and with a nasty, deviant Auckland strain.
This election should be about taking back New Zealand from these people to a better place.