The political commentators are puzzled. Why, after all the fuss about his links with Cameron Slater, did John Key run the risk of exchanging texts with the Whale Oil blogger about the Inspector-General’s report on the day before it was published?
It is of course true that John Key would not have foreseen that his denials would be so quickly shown to be false, and that he would be forced into a series of increasingly embarrassing and unconvincing explanations as to why he had not told the truth – “I was in a hurry”, “I couldn’t hear what I was asked”, “I misunderstood the question”, “I was trying not to be too specific”.
The price he has paid is clear. We now know that we have a Prime Minister who is prepared to mislead New Zealand if he thinks he can get away with it. But that still leaves the question – why did he take the risk, and why, of all the thousand of texts he says he receives and to which he does not reply, did he choose to reply to the one from Cameron Slater?
The answer is one that should offer no comfort to any citizen of this country. The answer is that he dare not ignore a message from Cameron Slater. And why? Because he is now Cameron Slater’s creature.
The relationship between the Whale Oil blog, the Prime Minister’s office and the Prime Minister himself was initially a convenient one from John Key’s viewpoint. Here was someone prepared to serve the Prime Minister’s interests by doing the nastiest jobs, deep in the darkness and the mire, and to require in return little more than the occasional massaging of his ego.
But as the stakes got higher, and the spotlight began to play, the power in the relationship shifted. Cameron Slater became the custodian of a huge amount of information that the Prime Minister simply could not afford to become public. For Slater, this was pure gold. The bigger the role he was seen to play, the more it inflated his ego and – crucially – the more important he became to the Prime Minister.
Slater has little to fear if the whole sordid story comes out. It would simply confirm the centrality of his role and would confirm an image of ruthlessness he has sought to cultivate. But for John Key, it is imperative that the story stays under wraps.
One word from Slater, in other words – and the Prime Minister is history. Slater holds John Key’s place in that history in the palm of his hand. If Slater calls the Prime Minister, of course that frightened man will jump to it. He will even run the risk of discussing a leaked Inspector General’s report with him – and then trying to bluster his way out of admitting that he had done so.
So, what seemed to be a mystery becomes a much more worrying truth. We have a Prime Minister who is not only careless with the truth but who is obliged, for fear of being exposed, to do the bidding of the nastiest and least principled person in New Zealand politics. Is that the Prime Minister this country wants?
You need a long spoon to sup with the devil.
1 December 2014