Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Dotcom's been pipped ... but it's politics as usual

Kim Dotcom. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Kim Dotcom. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Spare a thought for German money-bags Kim Dotcom. He's spending more than $3 million to buy himself into the general election. He's also promising to drop a last-minute information A-bomb that will blow National's finely tuned rowing skiff out of the water.

But now, after the damage caused by the leaked chatterings of right-wing blogger Cameron "Whale Oil" Slater, his chum, dumped Justice Minister Judith Collins and other friends, it's hard to imagine anything Dotcom finally serves up having any shock value. Well, not $3 million worth.

As an election-watcher from way back, I find it amusing to read pundits claiming we're in the midst of the dirtiest campaign ever. Don't they remember the great Vietnam War campaign in the late 60s, when Prime Minister Keith Holyoake revealed to a shocked Auckland Star, that his wife, Norma, had woken the morning after the Auckland Town Hall meeting with bruised hips. Quelle horreur!

Apparently she'd been jostled the night before by radical students.

And anyone who lived through the torrid battles the Labour left waged to seize the party back from the Rogernomes in the late 1980s knows what a dirty campaign really is. The fight, for example, to dislodge Richard Prebble in Auckland Central was perhaps the most torrid of battles throughout the country. Matt McCarten, now Labour leader David Cunliffe's chief of staff, recalled in a memoir of unionists being bussed in by both sides to stack meetings, of light fuses pulled at crucial meetings, of punches thrown, and people falling down stairs and being carted off to hospital.

Politics is about power, and those involved tend to take it seriously. On both sides of the spectrum.

What is delicious and possibly unique about National's current problems is the impotence of those at the top. Try as they might, there is little or nothing the leadership can do to regain control. Like an ancient Greek drama, John Key and Steven Joyce et al have become mortal playthings in the hands of fractious "gods" - in this case, mystery hackers with names like Whaledump and Rawshark.

In ancient times, the mortals sacrificed virgins and made offerings to try to appease their celestial tormenters. Mr Key has tried this by ridding himself of Ms Collins, but it seems that was too little, too late. The tormenting goes on.

The politicians have difficulty fighting back because they have no idea who the enemy is, or when he/she will feed another embarrassing leaked transcript to the drooling newshounds.

Initially, the source of their discomfort was Nicky Hager, author of Dirty Politics and his source, the anonymous hacker Rawshark.

Mr Key's first response was to put Hager down: "Most people know that Nicky Hager is a screaming left-wing conspiracy theorist."

But as the spotlight moved across on to blogger Slater and his seedy band of cohorts, they're starting to go feral. We're told that in a spectacular own-goal, the leaked message that brought down Ms Collins, the woman they were trying to make leader, was passed to Mr Key by one of their own, Cathy "Cactus Kate" Odgers.

Odgers apparently thought a Fairfax reporter had obtained an email with her "fingerprints" on it, incriminating Ms Collins in a campaign involving Slater and Odgers and others directed against the Serious Fraud Office and its then-director, Adam Feeley.

Odgers messaged reporter Matt Nippert, "I take it you found the smoking gun". The message referred to was from Odgers' personal files and was subsequently passed to Mr Key, leading to Ms Collins' demise.

But Fairfax did not have the "smoking gun". In other words, Slater's hero was felled by, it seems, one of his own.

On National Radio on Monday, right-wing commentator Matthew Hooton floated another possible nightmare for National. The possibility of Slater going rogue ... well, more rogue.

The story is that Slater is smarting at the Prime Minister's denial of any close relationship between them. He brags about them speaking daily; Mr Key would prefer us to believe once a year, or never. Slater doesn't handle rejection well. So if his ultimate aim is to have "temporary Prime Minister" Key replaced as party leader by Ms Collins, why not go for broke and release the correspondence between himself and Mr Key's one-time senior communications adviser Jason Ede.

It could well highlight a relationship between Slater and Mr Key rather closer than the Prime Minister is acknowledging.

Now that would make fascinating reading. Far-fetched? Well, no more than the revelations in Dirty Politics and the subsequent manoeuvrings.

It seems I'm not alone in my rather cynical "politics as usual" take on this circus. Sad as it might be, only 11 per cent of those questioned in a Herald-Digipoll survey after the publication of Dirty Politics believed the revelations would cause a lot of damage to the Government, and 14 per cent thought being attacked by Hager would enhance Mr Key's standing.

And in last weekend's One News-Colmar Brunton Poll, 41 per cent of voters questioned believed National was involved in the smear campaigns and leaks revealed in Hager's book, but 48 per cent of voters still supported National - a drop of only 2 per cent.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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