Key Points:

So now its okay for Labour to conduct witch-hunts against public servants whose partners have links with the National Party?

Unsurprisingly, that is not the verdict of the State Services Commission report detailing the shabby sacking of Madeleine Setchell, whose partner, Kevin Taylor, is National leader John Key's chief press secretary.

But it is the only conclusion to be drawn once the usual commission verbiage, bureaucratese and butt-covering is stripped away.

Rather than doing its job and upholding the neutrality of the public service, the commission has countenanced what amounts to an open-and-shut case of political interference by the office of David Benson-Pope, the Minister for the Environment.

Ms Setchell did everything by the book when she applied for a senior communications role in the Ministry for the Environment. Realising her potential conflict of interest, she openly declared her relationship with Taylor. The ministry saw no problem. She was given the job.

After she was hired, an unnamed staff member from Benson-Pope's office phoned the ministry to bring what the report calls the "possibility of an issue" to the attention of the chief executive, Hugh Logan.

The caller may have stressed that it was entirely Logan's responsibility to make decisions on employment matters. But any such call with such political overtones implicitly contains a degree of political pressure. Otherwise, why would the staff member have alerted Logan if he or she did not want something done about it?

Benson-Pope can expect that question and a host of others from National about his involvement and what he knew to plague him next week in Parliament.

It is another internally-instigated mess of the sort Labour has been trying hard to avoid. It is a classic example of third-term arrogance mixed with paranoia.

Logan should hold his head in shame for buckling to pressure and effectively dismissing Ms Setchell.

The Labour left - big on worker rights in China but silent when an employment injustice is committed in its own backyard - should examine its conscience.

As for the State Services Commission, its usual liberal application of whitewash cannot disguise the fact that the report has effectively been written to avoid what might have been an embarrassing contradiction.

In an article in the Dominion Post, the chief commissioner Mark Prebble wrote that Ms Setchell had demonstrated "a high degree of professionalism and an ability to work at a senior level in the public service".

Accompanying paragraphs from the article have been drafted into the commission's report.

Mysteriously, Prebble's endorsement of her professionalism is absent, presumably because someone realised it contradicted the rest of the report.

Either Ms Setchell was professional enough to handle her potential conflict of interest or she wasn't.

The commission could not have it both ways.

The commission might also ask itself why was she deemed unable to handle a potential conflict of interest when scores of other public servants in Wellington are considered able to do so. Where does her treatment leave them?

The blunt truth, however, is that Benson-Pope's office did not trust her. And the ministry and the commission were too gutless to uphold her right to show Benson-Pope's office was wrong.