Parties are only just launching their election campaigns and already we're down to bare knuckle bruising over burning effigies, obscene chants, racist jokes, sexist slurs, a banned satirical video and a new book exposing dirty tricks.

Add in the usual billboard graffiti and pot-and-kettle debates and this election could plumb new depths in political ill-will among contestants and the voters they're attempting to woo.

If John Key thought he could sail through the tumult unscathed he should, by now, be considering which heads must roll in order to keep up appearances and distance himself from the allegations in Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics.

Not that the book reveals much we didn't think was so: that provocative right-wing bloggers Cameron Slater and David Farrar are effectively arm's-length employees of National, being fed much of their material, or even having it written for them, by bona fide employees of National plus the odd minister.


Jason Ede may be the longest-serving press officer in Key's office, but Key will likely cut him loose quickly now we know he's been organising computer hacks and smear campaigns against the opposition for years. No one wants an albatross.

Key calls Hager a screaming left-wing conspiracy theorist, but Hager has always been proved right and there's no reason to doubt him now. So Ede, whose own office is just two doors from the PM's, should be gone. He and Key can console themselves that he's done the job.

Justice Minister Judith Collins may well follow over claims she acted inappropriately in having a prisoner moved to a remoter prison to satisfy a friend of Slater, and discussing illegally-obtained police evidence with Slater - which he then published - while she was Minister of Police.

Collins, however, is a formidable battler, and as much as Key might wish to be rid of her (given her threat as a party leader), he can't afford to acknowledge that level of scandal. So they'll be going hard out to cover up instead.

So Hager's book probably won't seriously affect the election result (though it will have influence) but at least it creates a few ripples across what is otherwise a smooth pro-blue pond of television and radio media.

Potentially more damning, in its way, is the bizarre decision by the Electoral Commission to ban airplay of the satirical video Planet Key a great blues riff by Darren Watson, amusing graphics by Jeremy Jones - on the basis it is electoral programming.

It may even be considered electoral advertising although it doesn't promote anyone. All because it carries one lyric that goes, "If you want compassion, don't vote for me", putting it at odds with the "no for or against" electoral programme definition.

Surely they're joking. It's satire, pure and simple. Or is the commission saying New Zealanders don't understand that?

Key himself says he hasn't a problem with it and thought it "quite professional", but the insinuation is the commission has taken this step because the video ostensibly harms the Government. Another dirty trick, in other words, in line with the "two faces" PR approach Hager outlines: the affable public one and the vindictive covert one.

While arguably it would be hard to paint Slater in a worse light, if nothing else these revelations expose the true depths of the toxic sludge that passes for right-wing commentary online. And Slater and local shadow man Simon Lusk could face investigation for allegedly blackmailing Rodney Hide into resigning as ACT leader in favour of Don Brash.

And it may be that Key's halo has been tarnished too much this time to ever shine bright again.

That's the right of it.

Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.