Prime Minister’s response to SIS-Whale Oil report shows we have the world’s first post-modern leader.

Leave John Key alone. Give the guy a break. With the possible exception of his caucus, who nod loyally in Parliament like plastic dogs in car rear windows, it seems no one this week will speak up for our Prime Minister.

Many of his most devoted cheerleaders have wistfully dropped their pompoms. He was betrayed even - deliberately or not - by his friend Cameron Slater, and forced to humiliatingly admit he had misled Parliament when he said he had not been in recent contact with his blogster txt-m8.

Who then will defend John Key? I will.

The PM has been assailed from all sides for clinging steadfastly to his insistence that his office had "absolutely nothing to do" with the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) provision of politically potent (and, it turns out, misleading) material to Slater under the Official Information Act, despite the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security's (IGIS) finding that "NZSIS information was disclosed by a member of the staff of the Prime Minister's office to Cameron Slater for political purposes".


But be it in that instance, or the somersaulting around the Slater texts, or the miracle of Christmas, what, at the end of the day, is truth? As any student of critical theory will tell you, Key is simply awake to the futility of pursuing concrete meaning in a world of contested reality. He is invoking the sort of thinking once articulated by Harold Pinter.

"There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false," mused the socialist playwright and founder of the popular website Pinterest. "A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false."

Life is complex. Everything is contestable. Meaning is potato. So what if the Prime Minister chooses to discount the scenario arrived at by IGIS Cheryl Gwyn, supported by evidence given to her by former senior Prime Minister's office employees Jason Ede and Phil de Joux, in favour of the account by Cameron Slater? Why do you hate bloggers? Are you racist?

What possible reason is there to doubt Mr Oil's word that he received an anonymous tip-off from an SIS staffer? Apart, obviously, from Gwyn's finding there was zero evidence for this, and that Slater had mollified Ede's anxiety that he "might be in the shit" for sharing SIS information by saying, in Gwyn's summary, he "would claim to have an NZSIS source in order to protect Mr Ede". And apart from the assessment in that other, Chisholm report into Judith Collins released this week, that his words were "unreliable and untenable".

And apart from Slater's record of fabulism and hyperbole, including his account, later denied, of the Prime Minister telling him the mother of a car crash victim was the same "f****** feral bitch that screams at him when he goes to Pike River meetings". No, let's go with that guy over the Inspector-General.

To those who bleat that the circuitry depicted in the IGIS report - including Slater being on the phone to Jason Ede in the Prime Minister's office the very moment he pinged off his OIA request - vindicates Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics thesis of a "two-track approach", in which the Prime Minister is kept insulated from the "black ops" conducted by office staff, there is a straightforward rejoinder: we have had a referendum on the matter, on September 20, and the resounding result was that hard-working New Zealanders regard all of that to be a screaming left-wing consmearacy.

And Philthy Goff is a leaker and what about changing the flag?

The Prime Minister has, meanwhile, faced a barrage of questions from the wreckers and haters, demanding accountability, apology and resignation. In fact there has been plenty of all of that already.


Accountability? Recognising, one assumes, failures in the SIS and illegal spying by the GCSB, John Key took the bold step at the start of this term to remove the minister in charge of the agencies, John Key, and replace him with the rapier-witted Chris Finlayson.

Apology? Contrition is a dangerous thing. The Prime Minister knows that to acknowledge decay in a single stone of the Beehive would be to risk collapsing the whole edifice.

And there have been apologies. The new SIS boss, Rebecca Kitteridge, said sorry to Goff and to Key. And any claim that the Prime Minister has shown himself incapable of apologising in the fallout from Dirty Politics is flat false. He did apologise. To Cameron Slater.

The better question, perhaps, is why you, reader, have not yet apologised to the Prime Minister or Cameron Slater.

Resignation? Good point. Phil Goff should resign. Even better, he should be imprisoned. Next!

Key has recently explained how many different capacities he has. So many hats to wear. You try swapping the prime ministerial hat for the party leader hat for the one-of-the-guys hat for the putting-out-the-cat hat all the time and see how you get on, especially in Wellington with all that bloody wind. You might just find that you, too, bump into things and accidentally pocket-text gutter bloggers.

It is precisely this headwear issue that led Key to decide to break with the tradition of dealing directly with the SIS boss. As the Gwyn report notes: "After the change of government, the contact between the service and the Prime Minister's office (PMO) became more diffuse and service staff engaged directly with political advisers in PMO." Uneasy lies the head that wears all those hats, so, you know, share a few around.

You may marvel at the news that despite everything Key remains in contact with Slater. You may feel mightily uneasy, given everything, that a new bill is being rushed through granting the SIS extra powers including 48 hours' warrantless surveillance. You may ask whether the Prime Minister's response to much of the IGIS report, to cover his ears and intone na-na-na-not-listening, amounts precisely to the third-term arrogance he has cautioned his MPs against.

But, come on. It's complicated stuff. Relax! Have a nice cup of tea. Leave John Key alone. In a country that has so often stood at the vanguard in breaking with tradition, here is a man who at once delights in the malleability of language and the idea of "truth", and who values a good bit of hat-swapping delegation. Another first for New Zealand, and something, surely, to celebrate: the world's first post-modern, part-time Prime Minister.

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