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Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Integrity missing from politics

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John Key says politics is about trust. Photo / Alan Gibson
John Key says politics is about trust. Photo / Alan Gibson

I had a particularly grating maths teacher at secondary school who used to look at us sorrowfully after an outburst of boisterousness had interrupted his attempt to get the principles of calculus into our heads and moan: "Heaven protect you from your friends. They're the ones who will bring you down."

That lesson has proved of longer-lasting value than anything I learned about how to calculate the area under a curve.

What a shame he never had John Key in his class. As a reading of Dirty Politics makes abundantly clear, poorly chosen friends have sown the seed for each others' downfall in the book's cast of ragtag misfits.

Key's reaction to the book can be paraphrased as: "At the end of the day, everyone does these things and these allegations are part of a left-wing smear campaign whose claims are unravelling and getting in the way of discussing the real issues."

Let's look more closely at that:

"At the end of the day ..." This is, of course, not an argument. But it does use up interview time that he would otherwise have to expend trying to defend the so-far indefensible.

You could argue, also, that we have actually arrived at the end of the day.

"Everyone does these things ..." No, they don't. Not on this scale and with this level of cruelty.

But if they did, it would be equally deplorable and worthy of our condemnation. Ethics aren't a democracy in which an action is more or less good according to the number of people who perform it.

"These allegations ..." Key and others have tried to dismiss the material in the book in this way. But it contains not many allegations and a whole heap of facts.

The claim has been widely made that Nicky Hager hedges everything around with "possibly" and "looks like".

In a very few cases that is true but — by my estimate — for at least 90 per cent of the material there is no such equivocation. You can't get much more forthright than "the single most important beneficiary of and collaborator in the attack politics was the Prime Minister, John Key".

Hager's forthrightness is the reason the Prime Minister and anyone else in or near his Government who has been asked has not been unable to confront the revelations in the book head on.

"Left wing ..." Leaving aside the question of whether there is an authentic left wing in New Zealand politics, Hager can justifiably point to his record of exposing misuse of power wherever he finds it.

"Smear ..." Smear suggests untrue. In which case it behoves the PM or anyone near his office to get to work disproving the revelations.

Their proof will need to be at least as rigorous and well-footnoted as Hager's.

"Campaign ..." One book is not a campaign.

"Unravelling ..." Quite the contrary, and wishing won't make it so.

With the leaks of the original emails via Whaledump, the material in the book has been reinforced day by day.

"Getting in the way of discussing the real issues ... " In fact, integrity has become the single most important issue in this election.

As Hager quotes Key: "Politics is about trust." Trust has to be earned. It's the bedrock of democracy, the one thing without which nothing else works.

And how are we to trust what someone says about child poverty, clean rivers, charter schools, benefit entitlements or any other issue, if we can't trust what they have to say about the facts in this book?

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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