Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics has set the election campaign alight. Have our politicians reached a new low in gutter tactics? Hager picks five crucial parts of his book and invites you to make up your own mind

On the Len Brown affair

Far from feeling remorseful, Cameron Slater was empowered by his spectacular attack on Len Brown.

Just one week after the affair was made public, when it was clear Brown was not going to resign, Slater started hunting for more sex-related dirt on the mayor.

On October 23, he asked his ex-prostitute friend if she could help to dig up some more stories: "Rattle your cages to see if Len rooted in brothels." He declared confidently: "He will have. I'd love a hooker to come forward and tell all about Lenny."

His friend wrote back: "What man in grey hasn't?" Slater continued: "Get me dirt ... he will get away with it otherwise ... whatever you can rustle up, what he likes, when, how, and how he pays."


His friend said: "I will get my sticky feelers out."

Slater often pumped his ex-prostitute friend for information.

"Now tell me who ... current MPs ... are rooting in brothels and like different stuff," he wrote in June 2011. His friend replied he should talk to another woman with "her finger more on the pulse" and who knew "heaps of shit".

She said: "I should send you a friend request, she is on the piss tonight, so may spill." Slater said: "Right let's get digging ... time to let those pricks know they can be got." His friend checked that Slater would not name her on his blog and he assured her he would not even mention her.

Slater dug deep for more salacious details on Len Brown. Photos / NZ Herald

"Done," she replied. Slater said, "Ok cool ... i want to take out some pollies. Let them know they can be got, so [they] play ball with the whale."

The following month, Slater pressed his friend for information again. "How many politicians did you do?" he asked. "A lot," she said, "and what is interesting is Iampulling all accounts from my club days ... so there are some high people's accounts on there that will ping my memory." Slater replied, "Oooohhh can I have the politicians please?"

Slater sent Aaron Bhatnagar a copy of an American article about Nixon era dirty tricks, which the people involved had called ratf**king. He said, "Someone posted this on a blog yesterday in a post about me ... Let us raise a morning glass to Donald Segretti, the ratf**ker ... Apparently it is dreadful and I am guilty of it ... I view it as aspirational," he said. "It is proper politics."

On Judith Collins

Collins and Slater had similar dislikes and enmities. Photo / Michael Craig

Collins' cynicism about her colleagues is clear in her conversations. "Did you notice that Deborah Coddington was talking up [National MP] Nikki Kaye today in HOS [Herald on Sunday]?" she wrote. "Wonder what she is expecting in return."

Or writing about her Act Party coalition partner: "Boscawen will be right ... He's too Asperger's to lie." And when one of her least favourite Cabinet colleagues, Simon Power, announced he was leaving at the 2011 election, she commented, "all those 2005 intake [of National MPs] who suck up to him would have thought, 'What, you bastard, why did I waste my time being nice to you'?"

But what Collins and Slater shared most were their dislikes and enmities. Their hostility towards many people in the National Party was at least as strong as their dislike for their political opponents. Collins wrote about Auckland National Party internal politics, "Personally, I would be out for total destruction ... But I've learnt to give is better than to receive." They called it the double rule. If someone attacked them, they gave back twice as much. Here is Slater writing about a senior National Party official who had annoyed him:

Cameron Slater: he is a very silly man, because I could stop the people who are going against him. But now, he is just is going to get double.

Judith Collins: you know the rule. always reward with Double.

Cameron Slater: I learned the rule from you! Double it is.

Judith Collins: If you can't be loved, then best to be feared.

On National's Jason Ede

It had been a close shave. The next day, June 14, Ede and Slater exchanged several emails expressing their relief that Labour had not discovered Ede's role [going inside the Labour Party computer]. Ede wrote: "An interesting sidebar ... is that they're chasing us by matching IP neighbourhoods and the types of computer we use. You stand out like dogs balls because of your damn Mac!!!!!" He continued, "In my case, I wish to offer a hearty sigh of relief and celebrate dynamic IP addresses." He meant his computer regularly changed its IP address, which ensured he could not be identified by its IP address. If Ede had had a static IP address like Slater, the Labour Party might have been able to prove he had been inside their computer system. Ede titled his email, "Thank You for dynamic IP addresses".

It is unusually grubby to have a member of the prime minister's staff digging around in their opponent's computer system looking for dirt. Ede was doing all this in his role as "senior adviser" to the prime minister, based in his ninth-floor Beehive office, number 9042, only two doors away from John Key's. Senior party officials were involved as well as the senior adviser, and it seems improbable that either would do it without informing the prime minister.

On lobbyist Carrick Graham

There is a 2005 film called Thank You for Smoking, which concerns the tobacco industry's main lobbyist in Washington DC, a fictional character called Nick Naylor. Suave and cynical, he enjoys his job. He meets once a week with two other lobbyists, his closest friends, at a corner table in Bert's Restaurant: Polly Bailey, a lobbyist for the alcohol industry, and Bobby Jay Bliss, the chief spokesperson for the firearms industry. They call themselves the Mod Squad, which jokingly stands for "Merchants of Death".

Every country has its Mod Squad and it goes with the territory that the people involved tend to be jokey and cynical about their choice in life. In New Zealand, Nick Naylor's real-life equivalent is a man named Carrick Graham, who worked for 10 years as the PR person — lobbyist ("corporate affairs manager") for British American Tobacco, the country's largest tobacco company. Like Slater, he is a child of the National Party. His father, Doug Graham, was a long-time National Cabinet minister, and Graham junior and Slater grew up surrounded by the intrigues of the Auckland National Party. His official story is that he used to work for the tobacco industry, starting in 1996 and leaving in 2006, but it seems he just changed his employment arrangement, moving from employee to generously paid consultant. Carrick Graham is the main person, year after year, who has paid Cameron Slater most of his income.

Slater earns his living by putting articles on his website written by Graham, and others, as if they are his own work. This includes material for the tobacco industry but, like the Mod Squad, also for large alcohol companies and other lucrative clients that prefer not to operate openly. Grahamand others send Slater the completed articles, the heading already written and often the pictures supplied, and he simply pastes them on to his site and publishes them at the specified time. As the country's largest audience political blog, it is a potent platform for planting corporate messages.

On PM John Key

Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell

This brings us full circle to the start of the book and Slater's gratuitous insult about the young "feral" who died in Greymouth and did the world a favour. In the ferocious public backlash that followed, Slater's friends rallied around to support him. According to Slater talking on Facebook, one of those who phoned him to commiserate was John Key.

It was five days since Slater had written the grossly insulting post and, as usual, he was talking over events on Facebook with his buddy, Russell Beaumont (blogger Barnsley Bill). Beaumont raised the subject of the young man's outspoken and grieving mother. Slater replied, "Why would I apologise to that slut?" Beaumont said, "You were never going to apologise anyway." Slater was feeling justified about what he had done. "JK [his usual shorthand for John Key] rang me," he said.

In Slater's words, Key had told him that the dead man's mother "was the same feral fucking bitch that screams at him when he goes to Pike River meetings". It seems unlikely that Key would have used such language, but it is clear he had rung to reassure Slater he should not feel bad about upsetting the mother. When the rest of the country was feeling appalled by Slater's offensiveness, the prime minister of New Zealand was calling to show his support.