It would be all too easy to shrug off the allegations in the new book Dirty Politics as simply confirming what we think we know about those who seek and hold power - they act out of self-interest, they backstab, conspire, stop at nothing to bring down opponents and deny everything.

We've known, too, that political parties have outsourced some unpleasant aspects of that operation to allied and partisan bloggers, who advance their interests on the internet while fiercely attacking opponents. We have highly public examples, such as the manipulation of Mayor Len Brown's mistress for political ends, to show the new normal of attack politics.

Much of Dirty Politics does illustrate the known underside of New Zealand politics, the constant undermining of the Official Information Act for incumbents' advantage, and the deep bitterness among the National Party's own factions.

Yet the book takes New Zealanders beyond the known, beyond even the private email world of Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater, his partisans and their braggadocio and into a zone few contemplated: where a prime ministerial staff member and a Cabinet minister actively and anonymously orchestrate the attacks.


Emails and Facebook messages hacked from Slater's accounts show Jason Ede, an adviser to Prime Minister John Key, stimulating or engaging in political scandals which surfaced on the Whale Oil blog. In one instance, he appears to have entered the Labour Party's website using a Beehive computer, exploiting a security flaw around the same time as Slater and someone from the National Party. At other times he discusses attack strategies against opponents.

The author, Nicky Hager, labels Mr Ede, a little extravagantly, a "black ops" man but charges, correctly, that he ought not to be conducting such partisan political business while paid by the taxpayer. Hager says Slater was encouraged by someone in the know to apply for SIS documents under the Official Information Act which were then released to discredit then-Opposition leader Phil Goff, effectively misusing the apparatus of the state for party political ends. On this allegation, which is serious, Hager can offer only an "obvious guess" that it was Mr Ede, with no documentation to prove it.

Yet these kinds of activities are not what the public would expect of staff funded for the office of the Prime Minister, and Mr Key should order an urgent review to stop Mr Ede and those performing similar functions within his team.

If he does not clean up his operation, the suspicion that he condones sly, personal attack politics will fester. Mr Key should also ask questions of his Justice Minister, Judith Collins, whose emails to and from the blogger not only tilt towards immaturity, full of gossip and petty name-calling, but indulge in questionable use of government information against opponents.

The close relationship between Ms Collins and Slater is well known. The extent of her direct involvement with the blog's content is less so.

Governments of all political hues have long used media organisations to disclose news, frequently briefing trusted journalists in advance and choosing outlets which best suit their timing. Most news media are able to weigh the public interest against any risk of political manipulation, and, over time, ensure coverage for the range of viewpoints. None are politically partisan in the way of bloggers fed material for the sole reason of discrediting individuals.

There is, of course, an irony in Hager using private electronic messages hacked by unknown parties as the basis for his book. He has also extrapolated those messages at times into a circumstantial narrative of which Slater might be proud, and overstated similarities to Nixonian Washington.

Clearly, however, the Beehive's involvement in such dirt demands scrutiny. And a ritual cleansing.


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