Key punching at shadows as he fails to clean up leaking dirt

DUNCAN GARNER
Last updated 05:00 23/08/2014
Slater
KATE SHUTTLEWORTH
HACKED: Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater.

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John Key has lost control of this election campaign and he desperately needs to find a way to stop the blood flowing from National’s open wounds.

Yes, of course, this Dirty Politics saga is based on stolen and hacked emails – it’s not journalism, it’s political activism and it’s based on a crime.

But Key can no longer rely on that as a defence. It hasn’t worked.

This idea that it’s a vast Left-wing conspiracy has failed for the last nine days. Key and National have looked flat-footed and clueless for a week. It has genuinely surprised me.

Part of the problem is that under any normal circumstances Cabinet Minister Judith Collins would have been sacked for trading dirty secrets with Cameron Slater, the low-life blogger WhaleOil.

But none of this is normal. Because the prime minister, and others in his office, have been ringing and gossiping with him too. Key can hardly sack a minister for something he’s been neck-deep in as well. 

But it does make you wonder, just what else has Collins got on the PM?

This is why National has looked like a possum in the headlights – to react strongly and decisively would have only legitimised the book and its author, Nicky Hager.

But now it’s show time and Key needs to wrest control back from  the anonymous hacker.

That won’t be easy. Key is punching at shadows – he can’t see his enemy and he doesn’t know what might come next.

But he has to get on with it. Key’s line this week that the ‘‘cowardly hacker has stolen your election’’ is a good start, but National needs much more than that. Key has looked unsure on television all week – he’s looked unconvincing. The nice guy has gone.

So, for Key, it all starts tomorrow with the official National campaign launch. He needs a big-bang policy to get people talking. 

He has to get on with the business of getting re-elected. He needs to talk about the relatively strong economy and change the narrative.

And he needs the media to buy it. They will – but only if the hacker’s dumped emails start to bore them. These dumps are daily now – and for the hacker to stay in control he needs to keep it interesting.

And that’s the issue with trying to win back the ascendancy.

In 2011, when we were chasing the prime minister over what he said on the teapot tapes with John Banks, Key judged, correctly, that the public wasn’t interested in the sideshow and they wanted to talk about the real issues.

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But he still lost some support for his poor handling of the issue and Winston Peters came through the middle.

The big question now is  how much damage will this ongoing saga do to National?

And I say ongoing because no-one knows where it will stop and what comes next.

The major parties and their leaders like to be in control of their campaigns, to push themes and own each particular day.

They plan this approach meticulously. They have early-morning meetings to plot their day, and to craft their spin.

But the problem is no party is in control of this campaign.

The minor parties might as well be on Mars, they’re that invisible.

I haven’t seen David Cunliffe all week and Key has only been on the telly, under enormous pressure, responding to the hacker’s latest dump.

Already he has had to convince us that he knew nothing about the selective release of sensitive SIS documents to WhaleOil.

However, a letter from former SIS boss Warren Tucker suggests otherwise. So Tucker had to add to his story this week to be on the same side as the PM.

Key says he was out of the country on holiday when these documents, which embarrassed Phil Goff, were released to National Party hitman WhaleOil.

If that’s the case and we believe Key,  then who on earth allowed the PM’s office and the lead spy agency, for which the prime minister is responsible, to act like this?

Who do we hold accountable? Why isn’t the prime minister on top of this? Do we really think some bureaucrat from the SIS made this highly political decision? Of course not.

So right now none of the real issues are being discussed. And I sense ordinary Kiwi voters are getting fed up.

If it carries on like this, then the hacker continues to win. And don’t forget Kim Dotcom is planning his own September 15 event targeting the PM.

These are Key’s darkest days as prime minister – for his own political fortunes – he desperately needs to find a way out.

- The Dominion Post

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