Was it the right thing to do?

That's the question being asked probably most often in political circles in the wake of police blowing the lid on the untrue Clarke Gayford rumours.

Was it the right thing to set the record straight?

Those who ask that question are usually talking about politics. Was it the right thing for Jacinda Ardern's popularity? Was it the right thing for the Labour Government, whose popularity is tied to the Prime Minister's? Was it the right thing for the Police to risk appearing politicised?


Fair questions. But not the right question. The right question is, was it the right thing for Clarke Gayford?

Really, politics comes second to what the PM's partner was being subjected to. The PM's popularity, the Government's popularity, possibly even the Police's credibility, pale in comparison to the toll these untrue rumours must have been taking on Gayford.

Shutting the rumour down was risky. It almost certainly spread the stories. If 100,000 of us had heard the rumours at the start of the week, 4.6 million of us will possibly have heard them now.

But you can see why it had to happen. Put yourself in his shoes.

There are few feelings worse than knowing people are talking about you.

It's tough when you don't know what they're saying. It's harder when you do know what they're saying, and it's not true.

And people were talking. A lot.

I first heard the rumours two months ago in the South Island. The next burst came from a different part of the South Island. Then the Hawke's Bay. Then Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. It came from farmers, police, investors, media, politicos.


That's bigger than your standard political rumour. Usually it's just political hangers on in Wellington and Auckland spreading stuff.

Then it went online. The rumours changed. They became specific in their details.

Gayford would've known this was happening. The PM's office was fielding phone calls from journalists both wanting her response and warning her the extent of the chatter.

In the past, politicians and their spouses have mostly opted to weather storms like this. These things die down eventually.

But things were different for Gayford. Other Prime Ministers survived rumours before social media arrived to both fuel these fires and tribalise our politics. Rumours about why John Key quit politics died pretty quickly. It's not that interesting spreading stories about someone who's out of the game.

It's hard to decide to weather the storm, when you don't know how long the storm will hang around. It depends on whether dirty politics are involved. Dirty politics drags it out.


Was this a political hit job designed to hurt the Prime Minister through her partner, or simply an untrue rumour that got out of hand?

I'd hazard a guess it was a bit of both. The genesis of the rumour could've been anywhere - and possibly wasn't orchestrated - but once it was up and running, dirty politics kicked in.

Once it was out there, fringe players on the right of politics made sure members of the media heard it. When no one published the rumours, they tried a new tactic. They called media warning the story was about to break overseas. The idea was to scare New Zealand media into publishing, at risk of being scooped. No one did.

In the end, though, they got what they wanted. The story's out there. But I suspect it could backfire.

Low-blows like this only encourage normal, fair-minded people to rally around the victims and defend against further attacks.

Both Gayford and the PM will have a lot of sympathy for a while. And they deserve it. No one should have rumours so vicious and so rife that it takes a police statement to put it to bed.