Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dirty v normal politics

I find something a bit disingenuous about Nicky Hager's style of breathless, wide-eyed pleading - and that tends to get in the way of the facts in his book and what they mean.  Holding out some imagined purity of conscience as a standard in politics - as Hager does to exaggerate the significance of his research - seems a bit strained when he's spent the last decade of his professional life working on nothing but machinations of Tory 'sleaze'.  The email trail is damaging enough without the embellishment of a tut-tutting that only a saint could deliver.  Is he the only adult in the country not to have been inoculated for what are the common maladies of politics?

To argue points - as Hager does - with hacked emails in one hand and his finger wagging with the other is not the highest moral ground either. Hager's attempt to occupy a lofty position in the heavens somewhere - when he only covers one half of the hell of the underworld below that is politics and bloggers: National and the right - is undeniably partisan.  The Hollow Men followed the same pattern.  Focus on the right, a free pass for the left.

The context of the exercise wasn't about the relationship between politicians, their staff, the media and bloggers - it is about National and National-aligned bloggers only.  It is an exposé of the political right - not of politics as such. No wonder Key was pushing this line this afternoon - it's just about the only one he can safely mention that does have some credibility.  Key's response has been belligerent and curt; but while Hager is not the best advocate for his material, his beatific repose is becoming just as annoying as Key's whiny defence.

Politics is by implication - if not by definition - a dirty game, always has been, always will be.  We call it 'playing politics' as if it were a low game.  The skills of statecraft are not different from ancient times: spies, conspiring underlings, deniability, internal battles within the administration, manipulating messages, wealthy patrons gone rogue... Ok, so now we have 'blogsters' and twitter; but essentially the game and the methods remain the same.

What Hager's would-be  readers are looking for, as are all punters, is not the unethical lapses - the tawdry grubbiness of a blogger for hire, comms staff bragging and Judith Collins being mean behind people's backs - they want to know what offences have been committed and who and how many will be arrested.  How many will go to the slammer?  After five days the answer is still zero.  No smoking guns, but some smouldering emails and a couple of warm tweets. 

Not even any resignations.  Judith Collins has gotten away with more brazen behaviour before without reprimand - as has Paula Bennett who leaked/authorised private information from beneficiaries without any consequence.  Consistency with Key's previously loose code of conduct means basically anything goes.  It is difficult to dismiss anyone with those precedents established.  The dynamics of being 32 days out from a general election means Key will be reluctant to throw any of his crew to the dogs no matter what the level of transgression.

Key is now looking like the lame duck as he takes a hit for the collective failings of his wayward team.  Key still has personal headroom as none of the dots so far join directly to him - they end down a corridor wherever Mr Ede and his masked ISP is located - but Key's own handling of the scandal is now what the focus is on.

Espiner interviewing John Key on RNZ yesterday was a moment.  Key's answer to whether or not he saw the Official Information Act request to the SIS that Slater had reverse-ordered via Ede and which was released immediately was convoluted to the point he laughed at how he didn't know what was going on.  This was nonsense.  How could he not know? Key's defence of a National staff member digital dumpster-diving into the Labour Party computer server is a poorly considered position that paints him like Nixon.

If the text of Hager's book does not contain evidence of an offence, the reactions to it from John Key could prove just as damaging all the same.  Hager has let us all see under the rock and what crawls out.

UPDATE: We expect a slater to scuttle out, it is the rest of the critters that are of real interest. It's probably obvious that I haven't read the book yet. I look forward to reading it and realise my reactions would be a lot stronger had I done so. At the moment, however loathsome, Slater et al have merely met my expectations rather than exceeded them.

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