Orwell had the Dotcom saga sussed

A week ago I drew some parallels between George Orwell's Animal Farm and the Banks-Dotcom-Key saga, not knowing that seven days later 1984 would be a more appropriate connection.

But it seems Big Brother has been watching Dotcom and a scandal which has already done much to keep our media in business is offering more manna from heaven for editors, reporters and the odd columnist.

However, while you probably got the impression I was less than enamoured with Prime Minister John Key's handling of the John Banks issue, I believe he has performed better with regard to the Government Communications Security Bureau twist in this sorry saga.

That might be hard to see, though, in the way this story has been covered. Inevitably, most of the mainstream media has taken a pretty simplistic approach to the issue and Opposition politicians have fuelled that approach by making it a party political battle, rather than focusing on the broader issues.

The way the narrative is constructed at present, it's a simple National versus Labour/Greens story, with the Opposition painting the Government as corrupt and shady and unwilling to come clean on the circumstances surrounding the Dotcom surveillance.

We are encouraged to believe that if we don't join the outcry against that supposed corruption, we somehow support the erosion of civil liberties and promotion of state surveillance.

But Key seems to me to have done the right thing this week.

As soon as he found out about the bureau's involvement, he held a press conference and didn't hesitate to say that it seemed something illegal had occurred.

He announced an inquiry and promised to tell the public as much as he could. That was followed by an unprecedented public apology to Dotcom and the public on Thursday, although we still don't know all we need to about the affair.

Wouldn't it have been great if David Shearer and Russel Norman had applauded that move and supported the prime minister?

For the real conflict in this story isn't between political parties. Rather, it is a power struggle between largely faceless public servants and our democratically elected MPs.

As in any episode of Yes Prime Minister, one can imagine Acting Prime Minister Bill English signing off the suppression order on the surveillance as a Sir Humphrey Appleby-like spook mutters darkly about the ''need to know'' and ''national security''.

Just what the police were doing calling in the bureau in the first place is as curious as the spooks' spectacular incompetence in not identifying Dotcom as a New Zealand resident.

Those are, as Dotcom's legal team rightly observe, very concerning matters and the public has every right to know what occurred.

I suspect Key will feel more confident in holding the feet of the spooks concerned to the fire if he has the support and encouragement of other political leaders.

Opposition parties would also do well to remember that the same bureaucrats who have seemingly exceeded their statutory powers and acted illegally in the name of our Government could well be doing the same, if they were on the Treasury benches, and it is in the interests of all that their bumbling misdeeds be exposed.

It is easy to say the buck for whatever has gone on should stop somewhere in the Beehive, but it would be tragic if, having secured a political scalp for one party or another to hang from its belt, our Parliament didn't probe further into the systemic and cultural environment that has allowed this farce to snowball.

But I'm not holding my breath. Political tribalism, the survival skills of our public servants and the catch-all cover-up line of ''national security'' will most likely ensure that no-one is really held accountable for what has gone on.

That will not be a victory for Labour or National, but more a defeat for Parliament as a whole.

We probably won't find out precisely who did what when and why, and most likely after a month or two we won't care, as other less important issues catch our media's attention.

Which, of course, brings me back, for the second week in a row to Orwell. ''If you want to keep a secret, you must also keep it from yourself.''

The Dominion Post