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Shadow play: Key’s 2-track politics

Written By: - Date published: 11:31 am, August 16th, 2014 - 40 comments
Categories: accountability, blogs, brand key, class war, crosby textor, democracy under attack, election 2014, john key, news, same old national, slippery, spin, Spying - Tags:

The main narrative that structures Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics is as important as the details of specific events covered in the book.  Hager explained this at the book launch as the “two track politics” that is a feature of John Key’s leadership of the National Party.

Dirty Politics book launch

At the launch of Dirty Politics: How attack politics is poisoning New Zealand’s political environment, Hager said,

It’s a book about, what in US Republican politics is called a two track strategy of how a government, how a leader is able to present themselves as clean, and above the negative side of politics, while vigorously attacking their opponents.

So what this is a book about – the start of the book is about John Key, our leader, the Prime Minister, and the way he has cultivated a very respectable image of being friendly and relaxed, which is true.  But at the same time, there’s been a whole other part of his politics, which most New Zealanders may have felt, but they certainly not seen evidence of, or properly understood.

And the way that has proceeded, there’s been a second track of politics, the bit which, I think many people in the press gallery probably perceived, but never found much evidence of. And that’s where the Prime Minister’s office was collaborating, year by – week by week and year by year, with a group of National Party allies and proxies, who would do their attacks for them.

DP cvr FIN.indd

John Key became leader of the opposition in November 2006.  This followed the resignation of the National party leader, Don brash, and that was partly the result of the impact of Hager’s book, The Hollow Men.  Dirty Politics has been described as picking up where Hollow Men left off.


In the Hollow Men, various kinds of political strategies, linked with political consultants Crosby-Textor, were described (Chapter 10: Hollow Men).  These involved sophisticated covert means of manipulating people’s opinions, especially those of soft voters.  For instance, it involved taking “non-existent” sentiments and other core messages, and repeating them continually so that they were heard clearly and believed by target, or swing voters.

With respect to his representation in the media, John Key had a dream ride into the leadership position and for many years after. He has frequently been referred to as Teflon John, where no criticisms stick to him.  He has promoted a friendly and smiley persona through numerous soft, celebrity type appearances.  Such appearances have little to do with the substance of politics, such as policies, legislative changes, and performances in the House.  He his carefully presented as a relaxed, down to earth “ordinary” Kiwi bloke.  This is in spite of his millionaire, jet-setting, globe-trotting, life-style, and personal history of being driven by self-centred ambition for status, money and power.

It was clear to many of us that follow political blogs and other media, that during the last years of Helen Clark’s term as PM, she was subjected to a vicious, underhand, smear campaign. Lew Stoddart outlined how it worked in talk radio, as orchestrated by hosts Lindsay Perigo and John Banks.  Stoddart called the smear they perpetuated “the communist lesbian dictator discourse”.  His paper is entitled: Clark Vader and the Helengrad Labour Lesbians: Anatomy of a political symbolic hate campaign (2008).

This campaign to undermine Clark’s popularity and government, was carried out in a range of arenas, partly by Nat supporters elsewhere, picking up on the ideas seeded by those more central to the perpetuation of the discourse.  The Whale Oil and Kiwiblog sites were part of that, as were Ian Wishart’s efforts to smear Clark by weak associative links with the likes of books by Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Satre.  Such people also attacked Clark’s childlessness, claiming she was a closeted lesbian, involved in a dishonest marriage of convenience. (Wishart’s Investigate article “The Seige of Helengrad“; his book Absolute Power)

The central National Party “proxies” and dirty tricks brigade in Dirty Politics, are blogger Cameron Slater, and National Party “staffer” Jason Ede, with significant roles played by Jordan Williams and Simon Lusk.

"Smile, Wave, brain-fade, scuttle and run" The stategists in confrence?

“Smile, Wave, brain-fade, scuttle and run” The strategists in conference?

Jason Ede is a shadowy figure, who until now, has left a very small online footprint. He has been known as a PR man and staffer aligned with John Key and his parliamentary office. He also got some mention in alleged dirty tricks aimed to undermine the then leader of Labour, Phil Goff in the run up to the 2011 elections.

Jason Ede

Jason Ede

In December 2010, there were newspaper reports of the alleged involvement of Ede in feeding the media with a story damaging to Goff.  The Otago Daily Times reported on Goff apparently fiddling MP perks by claiming for rental accommodation in Wellington, while owning a property:  something Bill English had previously been strongly criticised for. Goff claimed that Ede had posed as a potential buyer of his property, had formally declined to buy it just before TV3 picked up on the whole story.

A key event outlined in Dirty Politics is also to do with an (alleged) deliberate attempt to undermine Goff in 2011. As reported on Stuff, the book claims that Cameron Slater was given speedy access to SIS documents via an OIA, as the result of directives given by Ede (implicating Key?). Then using the OIA information,

The Whaleoil post attacking Goff appeared on August 4. On the same day The Dominion Post contacted Key’s office to inquire why its request for the documents had been refused within two days.

At the time of the Whale Oil post, some people reported that there was something fishy going on.  The issue had to do with news reports about an investigation of alleged Israeli spy activities in Christchurch around the time of a major quake there.  Goff first claimed he hadn’t been briefed about it as was the protocol for him as leader of the opposition.  Evidence was sought via the OIAs, with allegations that Slater was given first access to the papers, in order to publish them with an anti-Goff spin.

Paul Buchanan commented on it:

… he said, it was a “terrible look for New Zealand”.

Buchanan said there was some concern that the SIS reported differently to the government of the day, than it does to opposition parties and the public.

An article on Scoop: “Tucker vs Goff and the Politicisation of the SIS”  by C.D Sludge, outlines what happened, and raises several critical questions.  Sludge argues that some of the developments of the story were decidedly weird.  Goff did seem to have mismanaged the whole thing. However, more significantly, there were serious questions for the government and SIS to answer.

As the history of the Key term as National Party leader and PM unfolds, it is becoming clearer just how much of a two track strategy his team and allies have been running.  It has been one of the darkest and nastiest periods of NZ politics: one marked by the front of a nice smiley man, while being supported by ruthless, covert black ops, tactics of character assassination, very dirty tricks, political manipulation, and a win-at-all-cost mentality.

NZ politics is in need of an extensive clean up and clean out.

Vote Left to change the political culture to something far more democratic: a government that serves all the people, not a few highly manipulative and vicious power players.

Keep calm vote left

40 comments on “Shadow play: Key’s 2-track politics ”

  1. adam 1

    Without the cyber punk over tones, it’s looking more and more like the plot from Transmetropolitan.


    Work of fiction folks, not a bloody manual.

  2. ianmac 2

    There must be many sincere and honest National MPs. I wonder what they have really thought about their position over the last 6 years. And now, even with concerns about self preservation, surely there must be some who are revolted about the essence of dirty tricks which must taint them. It always seemed that underneath the smiling exterior Key must have a grip of iron but not every MP will be pleased.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      There must be many sincere and honest National MPs.

      Don’t be silly – they would have been weeded out years ago.

    • lprent 2.2

      There must be many sincere and honest National MPs. I wonder what they have really thought about their position over the last 6 years.

      That is an interesting question. Maybe this explains the massive exodus of National party MPs over the last 9 years and particularly this term?

      Unfortunately I suspect that there a silencing clauses in the contracts attached to any payouts from the National party coffers that they received.

      • disturbed 2.2.1

        Iprent. question, what do you envisage here?
        “There must be many sincere and honest National MPs. I wonder what they have really thought about their position over the last 6 years”.

        With all the moderate Nat’s gone what has Team key got in store with a new bunch of sleuth’s?

        Wholesale slash and sell?

    • TheContrarian 2.3

      “There must be many sincere and honest National MPs. I wonder what they have really thought about their position over the last 6 years. ”

      Quite possibly the leaker could be from inside the party….

      • One Anonymous Bloke 2.3.1

        A strong possibility. The question is can the National Party ever get clean, or will the better wingnuts need to find a third way?

  3. ianmac 3

    And now I wonder about the 16 or so National MPs who are retiring this session.
    Why so many?
    How willing to go and are they being given a $300,000 handshake if they go quietly?

    Remember Lusk’s plan was to fill the Government with young ruthless MPs who are backed by big money, power, influence. Lusk and Eade and Slater may be part of that overarching plan. (My conspiracy theory???)

    • Tracey 3.1

      how many are women or Maori?

      • ianmac 3.1.1

        Can’t remember all the outgoing. But Simon Lusks plan on page 55+. Consider the machinations and dirty tricks to get Mark Mitchell elected in the Rodney electorate. And two others they claim back then.
        Now I wonder about the demise of Colin King and installing Stuart Smith in the safe seat Kaikoura electorate recently.

        • Tracey

          if half of what they say abour Rodney election is true… Its bad enough. If mark mitchell is who they say he is, holy crap.

          Sorry to confuse, wondered how many of the replacements were women or Maori

          • ianmac

            An interesting thought Tracey. Some clever person could find the current list of National MPs and compare it with the current National Party List. Show plus minus.

  4. disturbed 4

    How long did Key club think they could go on doing this shit against our democracy???

    Like Nixon they got to cocky and comfortable, until someone decided it was time this had to end.

    Like “Tricky Dicky” Richard Nixon’s words “I have never lied” will now haunt Key club’s “smiling assassin” John Key’s words “National had nothing to do with it” and both will become the most remarkable cases of the “two track strategy of how a government, how a leader is able to present themselves as clean, and above the negative side of politics, while vigorously attacking their opponents.”

    Thanks Karol a good clear concise take.

    • weka 4.1

      “How long did Key club think they could go on doing this shit against our democracy???”

      My guess, they’re still thinking it.

      • Molly 4.1.1


        Unfortunately, US politics was not cleaned out when Nixon resigned.

        Current state of affairs shows how much of a long game these manipulators play…

        • TheContrarian

          “US politics was not cleaned out when Nixon resigned.”

          Shit, far from cleaned out – it’s gotten uglier

        • disturbed

          Yes Molly, you said;
          “Unfortunately, US politics was not cleaned out when Nixon resigned.”

          Then remember what Obama said pre election, “I am going to change the way business is done in Washington”,——( me falls on floor in fits)

          When are we going to see a true leader of justice for all truth and honesty???

          • TheContrarian

            “When are we going to see a true leader of justice for all truth and honesty”

            Not in the States, at least not currently – The Republicans have moved from ghoulishly fiendish to straight up crazy while the democrats have no spine. The US needs more parties

  5. Mike Smith 5

    Great post Karol. The dots do join up.

  6. Tracey 6

    Also, the way they have approached the release of the book precicely mirrors the strategy revealled in the book.

    Key basically kept away from it for 36 hours, joyce and others front and shoot the messenger…

    And most importantly taking bad behaviour and borderline, if not full, corruption and normalising it so people assume everyone does it and thats how it is…

    • karol 6.1

      Ah. interesting. I haven’t been able to get a copy of Dirty Politics so far. That is why I started to focus on the broader context and some of the background to the main players.

      The responses to the latest book do also repeat some of the manipulative strategies outlined in hollow Men.

      • Tracey 6.1.1

        Agreed. They are still using hollow men tactics… They have become better at it since brash fell.

        Their policy around local politics sticks in my mind when i see the fight for palmerston north. The mayor appears to be a graduate of the Lusk school of local body traing… Jamie lee ross… Is cameron brewer one too?

      • Tracey 6.1.2

        i should finish mine this weekend, i can drop it to you early next week?

      • lprent 6.1.3

        I’d run my copy out to you. But Lyn got interested and wants to read it.

      • weka 6.1.4

        The kindle version is handy for its searchability.

        • karol

          Thanks, everybody. I’ll wait. I do like my own copy as I like to underline & write in margins. Also, I won’t have that much time in the next week to actually read it.

          • weka

            I take it back. Don’t use kindle hardly ever and have just discovered it doesn’t use page numbers. Unbelievable.

            • Draco T Bastard

              Apparently it’s up to the author of the books to put in page numbers on the Kindle.

              • weka

                True, but I’m using the application on my mac, it’s an older version that never had page number support apparently. From the quick search I did before, only Kindle 3 supports page numbers. I don’t know if that’s an app number or the hardware.

                • Draco T Bastard

                  Your app should automatically update or tell you to update. A few weeks ago mine refused to load until I’d updated.

      • just saying 6.1.5

        When I went to pick up my copy yesterday, it was amongst about 15 books already pre-ordered from the second printing. I asked the shop assistant if it was outselling the hagiography on John Key which was nearby. She beamed at me and said “by miles and miles and miles”.

        Left-wing town.

  7. ianmac 7

    Not sure if this has been previously aired but the SIS details in the Dominion point to the same day that the Dominion OIA was refused, Slater was given the OIA for the same request re Phil Goff:
    Hager suggests Key’s office ensured Slater got the briefing notes, which he used as a basis for an article on his Whaleoil blog, accusing Goff of lying. Key is the minister responsible for the SIS.

    About the same time, The Dominion Post’s request for the documents was declined.

    In Dirty Politics, published this week, Hager says Slater received a response to his Official Information Act request within a week – and quotes Facebook messages which suggest Slater knew what to expect.

    The documents were stamped as being declassified on July 26, the same day Slater lodged his request, Hager notes. …

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