OPINION: The very meaning of the phrase "dirty politics" has changed forever for New Zealanders. Politics has always been understood to be a dirty game, but just how dirty it is of late has been revealed by Nicky Hager's new book. Readers may or may not agree with the conclusions that Hager draws. However, there is no doubt in my mind that many of the political operators featured in the book - all of whom have close ties to the National Party - are, at best, vile and at worst, evil.
At this point, you may be thinking: how lucky we are to live in the Waikato, where our politicians are good, reliable sorts, and nothing like this ever goes on.
Which is, of course, not quite right.
It's not just the fact that our local body politics get pretty dirty, if hilariously so - see would-be kingmaker Ray Stark's wildly backfiring robo-calls during the last Hamilton City Council election for amusing details. It's that John Key is now irreversibly tarnished by his office's, and his own, association with the scumblogger Cameron Slater and his friends. What does that have to do with our local election issues?
Well, just look whose photo is on every billboard, smiling proudly, along with our local National candidates. It's John Key with (insert interchangeable name here) wherever you are in the Waikato. Key's dirt is their dirt. It's important to note I'm in no way implying that local National MPs David Bennett or Tim Macindoe have been engaging in the same dirty politics Key's office has been involved in. I believe them both to be decent people who genuinely care about and work hard for their electorates. Their politics are not mine, but I do respect them.
I no longer respect John Key. Not even a bit. And that's why John Key's problem is Waikato voters' dilemma.
National's election strategy has long depended on Key's immense popularity. That's why his face is on every billboard just as big as your local candidate's. The visual message is compelling. You're voting for Key, you see. The nice man. The smiler. The good bloke, the one you'd drink a beer with, and all the usual banalities that I'm so sick of and which should be, by now, unmasked as the untruths they've always been.
Key's office, and the office of Judith Collins, the Minister he is maintaining an increasingly inexplicable defence of, can't be separated from the awful people they've been keeping company with. The truth of the allegations in Dirty Politics will emerge (and is emerging) but what's already beyond dispute is the character of the people Key and Collins associate with. Collins regards Cameron Slater as a friend. I'm going out on a limb here, but I'd hope to believe that any New Zealander who reads what he says about Labour voters in Christchurch - "National should let them rot, after all they are useless scum Labour voters especially in the areas where the earthquake hit . . . well hopefully more scum labour voters will piss off to Australia and at least the uninsured get f..king nothing" - would regard him with nothing less than total contempt.
Well, this might be hard to take if you're a Key person, but John Key deserves a generous helping of the same contempt. As does Judith Collins, and anyone else in National who has ever thought dealing with the narcissistic bastard who calls himself Whaleoil as a quick route to taking out a political enemy. I would love to see our local National MPs condemn this behaviour.
At the end of the day - to borrow a cliché John Key has started spouting rather a lot lately - it's the good people in National who are being screwed by this approach to politics. The book features a horrible section wherein Cameron Slater and some of his awful friends try, and succeed, in gaming a National candidate selection process, through the most unethical means imaginable. I'd be interested to hear what local National MPs have to say about that sort of thing.
At the end of the day (again) Dirty Politics is not the Left-wing smear campaign that Key, Collins, and Slater are saying it is in the desperate hope that repeating it will turn the lie into truth. It's an impassioned cry for removing dirt from our politics. It is a book for National supporters, not just for Left-wingers. If the good people in National take the book's message seriously, it might mean that we can focus on debating genuine political issues rather than seeing an endless stream of Beehive-sourced hit-pieces masquerading as news. And if National - indeed, if any government, left or right-wing - won't conduct itself ethically, it must be punished at the ballot box.
Joshua Drummond is a freelance writer and illustrator who needs a shower after reading Dirty Politics. His website is cakeburger.com.
- Waikato Times