Editorial: Book is not going away

CLAIRE ALLISON
Last updated 10:02 19/08/2014

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OPINION: It was telling, perhaps, that even before the contents of Nicky Hager's new book, Dirty Politics, were known, Prime Minister John Key was attempting to discredit the author.

In a shining example of playing the man, and not the ball, Key described Hager as a "well-known left wing conspiracy theorist", and, one suspects, seemed to think that would be the end of the matter.

Sadly for Key, the book and the story didn't go away this week, despite extensive use of the phrase "smear campaign".

And it may well be a smear campaign, but motives aside, as the days have gone by, it has become more and more apparent that there is little - if anything - being put on the table that discredits Hager or disproves the contents of his book.

Interviews with key players like Key himself, or his right hand woman, Justice Minister Judith Collins, reveal a degree of baffled frustration that the usual smiling scorn and scoffing isn't having the desired effect.

A radio interview between Key and experienced journalist Guyon Espiner yesterday played out as a battle of wills, with Key attempting multiple times to steer the course of the questions away from Espiner's determined efforts to get an answer to a specific question about an admission Collins had made.

What's notably lacking so far is legal action - either threatened or actual - which tends to beg the question, if it's the tissue of lies that some have suggested, wouldn't those accused of dirty dealings be running screaming for their lawyers, or laying out the evidence that proves Hager has, indeed, made it all up?

It's understandable that Key and his party are unhappy. The picture the book paints is not of the smiling, selfies-with-schoolgirls persona the prime minister has been keen to portray - any association with the offensive, underhanded tactics revealed is undesirable at best, election-threatening at worst.

Some will argue that it's not as important as policy, but that's naive. People will make judgments on how their politicians behave. The voting figures from those "useless pricks in the South Island", and East Christchurch earthquake victim ‘scum' - as referred to by National's favoured blogger, Cam Slater - might now reflect some disenchantment with the current Government and how it operates.

Yes, it's politics, and politics can be a dirty game. But a lot of New Zealanders will feel this is a step too far into the muck. And if that's not enough to cause some serious voter soul-searching, the increasingly unbelievable denials just might be.

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- The Timaru Herald

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