Closing Our Eyes in the Sausage Factory: Some thoughts on Nicky Hager’s book, Dirty Politics.



IT WAS THE GERMAN CHANCELLOR, Otto von Bismarck, who warned his countrymen that “laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.” The same could be said for democratic politics generally. That democracy, like a good sausage, is a wonderful thing, but you really do not want to know what goes into it.

With this in mind, it is tempting to take Nicky Hager to task for grabbing us all by the scruff of our necks and dragging us into the sausage factory. This is especially so when we consider the observations of right-wing political fixer, Simon Lusk, who Hager quotes in the first chapter of in his book Dirty Politics: How Attack Politics is Poisoning New Zealand’s Political Environment.

In an e-mail to Hager about negative campaigning Lusk writes: “The are a few basic propositions with negative campaigning that are worth knowing about. It lowers turnout, favours right more than left as the right continue to turn out, and drives away the independents. Voting then becomes more partisan.”

If Lusk is correct then the publication of Dirty Politics could have the perverse outcome of suppressing the vote of those disgusted and demoralised by Hager’s revelations while ensuring the maximum turnout possible by voters sympathetic to John Key and the National Party.

It is certainly possible to infer from the response-lines agreed upon by Key and his allies that this is precisely the outcome they are seeking. It is presumably the reason for their constant reiteration of the idea that Hager’s revelations are nothing new, or even very remarkable, given that it has always been thus in the deeply compromised world of politics and politicians. This idea of the ubiquity of political evil is reinforced by TeamKey’s insistence that Hager’s behaviour is morally indistinguishable from that of the dark anti-hero of Dirty Politics, the blogger Cameron Slater. The sub-text here is simple: No one in politics has clean hands – even Hager. After all, his book could not have been written had the very same sort of hacking and privacy breaches which he so roundly condemns when practiced by the Right not supplied him with an information treasure-trove that was simply too compelling not to use.

Key, himself, has no choice except to point-blank refuse to engage with Hager’s allegations in any way. Were he to do so, Hager would be able to claim victory. This is because, in the most brutal terms: an allegation responded to is an allegation taken seriously; and an allegation taken seriously is an allegation which could, quite possibly, be true.

The moment Key allows the Chief Prosecutor, Nicky Hager, to have the Prime Minister called as a witness before the Court of Public Opinion, then, regardless of the nature of the evidence provided, the impression of there being a case to answer will be indelibly stamped on the voter’s mind. And that is “Game Over” for Key and the National Party.

TDB Recommends

No matter how shrill and false he may sound in the ears of Hager’s supporters, the Prime Minister will continue to refuse to acknowledge the possibility that Hager might be onto something. From now until Election Day, the author of Dirty Politics can only be “a screaming left-wing conspiracy theorist” who is “making it up”.

And there is method to this seeming madness. Key understands that his followers have been rattled by the appearance of yet another pre-election book by Nicky Hager. Their hero must, therefore, stand strong in the face of his persecutor.

The Prime Minister will make the same claims over and over again: Dirty Politics is without foundation; part of a vast left-wing conspiracy to bring him and his government crashing down; just one more vicious assault to set alongside obscenity-shouting students, anti-Semitic boguns, and a feral underclass of John Key effigy-burners. The slightest concession to even the most trivial of his persecutor’s accusations will be interpreted by his followers as weakness – tantamount to a full confession of guilt.

This is why the prime Minister is standing rock-solid behind his former staffer, Jason Ede. Why he will take no action whatsoever against his Minister of Justice, Judith Collins. Why he accepts the denials of Cameron Slater without demur. And why he will not deign to read even so much as a single word of Dirty Politics – not while he is so clearly the victim of dirty politics.

The Prime Minister can adopt this strategy because he knows that TeamKey is sufficiently powerful to block any serious attempt by the mainstream news media to take up the cudgels on behalf of Hager’s allegations. The public broadcasters will not dare to do it and the commercial networks and newspapers will not want to do it.

This failure will only intensify the feelings of disgust among those who feel there is something very rotten at the heart of New Zealand’s political system. In a grotesquely ironic abdication of the very civil responsibilities Hager’s book is intended to strengthen and mobilise, thousands of New Zealanders may yet abandon the political field altogether, calling down a plague on the houses of both the Right and the Left as they depart.

If that happens then the cynical political analyses of Otto von Bismarck and Simon Lusk will be vindicated. Hager will have demonstrated that although he is able to lead voters into the interior of the sausage factory, he cannot make them open their eyes.

What is it that John Lennon sings in his marvellous A Day In The Life?

A crowd of people turned away
But I just had to look
Having read the book.


  1. Writing about a German, fat sausages and laws all in the first sentence.

    I love how life imitates art.

  2. … TeamKey is sufficiently powerful to block any serious attempt by the mainstream news media to take up the cudgels on behalf of Hager’s allegations. The public broadcasters will not dare to do it and the commercial networks and newspapers will not want to do it.

    So, have we reached Berlusconi levels of media compliance in New Zealand? I hope not. God, I hope not.

  3. Yeah, I was already sensing this was going to be the National party’s strategy. As usual, they assume nothing much will stick to Teflon Key. Maybe it scratched the surface a smidge, but it’s not enough to cause a major abrasion and a loss of integrity. Hosking was right yesterday, in so far as TVNZ is concerned, that they simply won’t continue to undertake any significant coverage of this particular story.

  4. Talked to a few Gnats this morning. They are still wholeheartedly behind Key, are not interested in what Hagar says and a couple of them blamed “That fat b******d Dotcom (have they seen Slater?) for the whole thing.
    I don’t think the Gnats will be affected very much, they seem enthralled by dear leader and convinced he can do no wrong. I find this mindset dangerous. Hopefully Keys obnoxious handling of the whole thing will convince some of the large number of nonvoters and new voters to get out and vote left this year.

    • Yes the National voters on Campbell live the other night all buried their heads in the sand and refused to even consider reading the book. It is truly pathetic to witness such closed mindedness. I was (emphasis on the was) a National supporter, and this book has turned me, but I will vote. Does Key think we are all thick. Does he really think a general denial, without answering any of the specifics is enough. There are some serious issues here, including a rogue minister, leaking and tweeting (not any more) her vengeful spite on anyone who dares disagree with, or cross her. Maybe he’s right – the people who are still National supporters must be thick.

      By the by – if Labour wish to make anything of National’s trouble they need to tell Dave C to shut up. Saying things like “I needed a shower after reading it” and “National voters will desert them in their droves” will have the opposite effect.

      • It wil blow up in their faces. Al la Banks. They can back the dodgy parties and say nothing is wrong, but over the next 5 weeks as point after point is proven beyond doubt, the investigations kick in and the police start verifying the facts it will make them look worse and they will have made it worse.
        Personally, if I was Key I would have came out at the start and said that I find it very serious and will look into the accusations. Distanced myself and then held of investigations until after the elections. Throw one low level dude under the buss and moved on. He could have saved face. It’s the whole point of plausible deniability and he would have been seen to be doing the right thing…

        • Yeah but this is the tip of the iceberg of Key’s dodgy behaviour. There is much more to come – but Slater isn’t central to the corrupt big money deals like the SFC conspiracy, so his emails don’t reveal it. He’s a minnow, not one of the big fish.

  5. What if the left set 5 goals in relation to the revelations:

    – Collins must resign.

    – Ede arrested.

    – Police, GCIS to state official positions on the revelations.

    – Mass distribution of the book through our volunteer efforts (donate a book anybody?)

    – Media must out themselves where they have been complicit with #teamkey (like having Slater as commentator after he made ‘feral’ comments, removing any credibility).

    • Brilliant PT, donate a book would be awesome. A lot of the majority of voters may not be able to afford to buy a brand new book. A lot of us rely on the second-book stores. I would love to read it, to understand all the specific issues Hager raises, and the FACTS surrounding them.

      Unfortunately for those of us who can’t afford a copy of the book, we must rely on the commentary of people who have. Apart from a list of the major issues, most of the commentary has been about those idiots Slater, Farrar, Key, Collins and so on blathering on about nothing relating to the issues raised in the book.

      I don’t care at this point what those lying sacks of shit are spewing out of their mouths at the moment – I would just like to get a really good understanding of exactly what specific laws have been broken by these people.

      Most of us know that they have been caught red-handed doing all sorts of illegal things, but most of us have no idea what possible charges could be brought and what penalties these crimes carry.

      Forget about their lame denials and start focusing on the issues and who it is best for the public to pressure for answers, eg Police? But once again those of us who can’t afford the book, need info from those who have read it.

      After all, if you haven’t read it, how can you comment on it???

      • I couldn’t get a copy of the book, but I put a call out on social media. ‘any of my friends have a copy…’ they are more than willing to lend it out due to them wanting as many people to read it as possible. I am third in line 🙂
        I’m sure if you ask around someone will be more than willing to pass on a copy!

      • Michelle,
        You obviously have a computer so why not request loaning it for free from your public library?

  6. So if we draw parallels between Watergate & News of the World – is it possible that the casting of such a flick would look like this?

    John Key = Richard Nixon
    Judith Collins = Rebekah Brooks
    Jason Ede = Andy Coulson
    Cameron Slater = James McCord Junior a.k.a “CREEP”

    Nicky Hager = Daniel Ellsberg

  7. I’ve said it before, National would be delighted to have a record low voter turn out.

    Having read half of Dirty Politics so far, none of what I have read surprised me at all except for a couple of things.

    One, National have formalised the charade of avoiding close examination or any reflection for that matter on their track record, became God knows it makes poor reading. Rather they divert attention away with the future with airy fairy waffle or diversionary smoke screens. And its worked….so far! This tactic was apparent and the book now confirms it.

    Secondly and worse was the Official Information Act requests process. If this is correct and I have no reason to doubt it, journalists doing their job and investigating this government have found National are interfering if not subverting the process. A heads up is given to National and time is found to work out a counter diversionary scheme weeks before the poor bloody jouno has concluded the said investigation. Slater, it appears has been tipped off re the same material at times and gets it almost in an instant in time to take any rough edges off the material and make it old news. This explains an awful lot over the last 6 years!

    What kind of perversion of democracy is this??

    No wonder this government have been able to stage manage and manipulate every little detail so far. No wonder John Keys smug look gives away the boy who knew the answers to the test before the teacher did.

    We get stuck into the media and plenty is justified but I think at times the slime that inhabit the National Party are making their jobs extremely difficult with such abuse of their power.

    And it makes me wonder how much dirt and threats are held over these people too.

  8. Chris, you are right, of course: but perhaps there is hope that the media worm will turn. If the link below works, I invite readers to spend a riveting, raw, 19:55mins with John Key and the media in Dunedin on, I think, Thursday. Forget the replies by Key: study his body language, the faces surrounding him, and tone of the media. The 30-second clip that appeared on the TV3 evening news didn’t do justice to the exchange. Didn’t Linda Clark comment recently that the Parliamentary Gallery hunts as a pack?


    • Thanks for this link Petrus.

      I felt nauseous watching FJK prattle on the way he did. He seems to fairly well informed of the content of the book for someone who hasn’t read it!

      And how many times did he say the words “Mr Slater made it quite clear..”
      And how many times did he say “Jason Eade works for the National Party now…” Why did he fell the need to say that more than once!

      FJK also said he reads lots of blogs…yet I remember a while ago, when J Collins was on stress leave after revelations…that FJK said he doesn’t read blogs, and he has told her to stop reading them too.
      And then when asked about if he will look into the allegations about Collins sending the inmate to another prison – various times during the interview – he said “we’ll see.., and let’s see…”

      And of course according to FJK it’s all the fault of the left – that those emails got found – and nothing about the content of the emails other than the book was written by a left wing conspiracy theorist. He did not tackle the actual issues at all.

      Blatant ostriching going on here. What a dick FJK is, and this interview made me feel sick.

      Can’t wait for National to be gone! FJK!


  9. Eyes wide open. A vote for National shouldn’t be seen as a necessary evil. Who are the ruling scum here?

    The people in Christchurch mentioned by Cameron Slater deserve a lot better than to be left to rot. We all deserve a better NZ than that.

    Denial: Hypocrisy 101: Call an exposé on a smear campaign a smear campaign.

    Denial: John Key backs Jason Ede over claims he accessed Labour’s membership records – but said that even if he did “it would be fine”.

    Denial: John Key takes a lesson from the emperors new clothes in self delusion. “Hager’s claims “dissolving before his eyes”

    Denial: John Key and Steven Joyce attack Nicky Hager’s new book while at the same time refusing to read it.

    Denial: #TeamKey refutes reality. How to deal with an annoying whistle blower. Close your eyes, count to three, and when you open your eyes the world returns to normal. D’oh!

    Denial: By tomorrow John Key will be saying who is Nicky Hager. I have never heard of him. He doesn’t exist.

    Denial, denial, denial. The central theme of corruption.

  10. What’s this about?

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander too?

    Add the dirt file John Key said he has.

    Where did he get the files in 2013?

    He will write a book with those details as “facts” of fiction as according to his latest vicious attack on Hagers book as fiction so will his be also regarded by MSM as fiction.

    How about sending the reporter a challenge who covered Key’s expose’.

    Someone in the Journo league can do some shit on this expose’ of his double standards here please.

  11. … and yet, there may be hope.

    I chatted with two people, both apolitical; only one of whom voted (National, because her hubby votes National, and is a close friend of a certain business leader).

    Both of them saw the TV news item when he brushes off allegations saying,

    “It’s got nothing to do with me!” And quickly turns away from the journo-pack.

    Both women saw that news item. Both were apalled, and came to the same conclusion; Key was not telling the truth.

    More importantly, both will be voting this year. The non-voter will probably go with Labour or Mana. I’m not sure about the other, who has previous voted National – but she was very unhappy with Key’s behaviour.


    Like having my own “Focus Group”.

    It’ll be interesting to see what goes on in the polls after this event…

  12. I doubt that this analysis is right. The electorate is divided more or less in two. There are those determined to believe that John Key is a great guy and will hear nothing against him – this group is slowing sinking. And there is a group of people who hate John Key with a passion and are determined to bring him down on election day. That group has never wavered even when, through Labour’s incompetence, a win looked impossibly remote.
    This is the moment they have been praying for. They will be out in force on Sept 20th. It is the blind supporters who will stay away because they cant vote for a man who has betrayed they, but neither can they bring themselves to vote against him and admit that they have been taken in.
    Ther book is already sold out. I dont believe that National can survive this.

    • No it’s divided into 3 roughly equal groups. The two you mention and the third who have no fixed principles or no sense and will vote unquestioningly for whoever looks nice, sounds good, or says something they like to hear – whether it’s true or not. Oh and I include those who like their vote to be on the winning side for some reason.
      It’s this third group that Team Key talks to the most but they’re fickle and dare I say many are not too sharp and maybe this book will cause a few to turn left.

  13. It is scary to think that National may be able to get away with a Watergate-type burglary of political opponent’s files.

  14. There was a time when people found misbehaving resigned.

    I guess these days you could say they’re doing the right thing.

  15. It is certainly possible to infer from the response-lines agreed upon by Key and his allies that this is precisely the outcome they are seeking. It is presumably the reason for their constant reiteration of the idea that Hager’s revelations are nothing new, or even very remarkable, given that it has always been thus in the deeply compromised world of politics and politicians. This idea of the ubiquity of political evil is reinforced by TeamKey’s insistence that Hager’s behaviour is morally indistinguishable from that of the dark anti-hero of Dirty Politics, the blogger Cameron Slater.

    Chris Trotter

    I have heard this theme repeated ad nauseum by right wing talk back hosts, over decades, long before these latest revelations came up, going way, way back.

    It is expressed so often that it is to be taken as accepted wisdom that all politicians are corrupt.

    This is a time honoured tradition of the Right.

    The usual Right Wing talk back rant goes something like this;
    They are all corrupt – there is nothing you can do -don’t get involved in politics.

    The espousal of this accepted wisdom will then be accompanied with some dodgy self reinforcing popularity poll being pulled out that shows that politicians rate lower in popularity and trustworthiness than second hand car dealers or any other profession you care name.

    But what is behind this Right Wing loudly spouted and oft repeated meme is the right’s hatred of democracy.

    The deliberate purpose of all this hate, is to stop people taking an interest in politics.

    We are supposed to accept, without thinking, that all politicians are all as bad as each other.

    And give up hope of ever making a difference.

    The tactic is this; if you can insert into the popular imagination, the view that all politicians are corrupt, then if a genuine political leader at the head of a popular movement does come along, it is very easy to smear him or her with the same broad brush stroke that all politicians are corrupt and out for themselves, All that is required is for a couple or even one high profile media personality to play up some vaguely negative aspect of this leader’s appearance, or dress, or speech and attack them for looking “shifty”, or “dodgy”. or suspect in some way. And subtly create the impression that their advocacy is all about seizing personal power for themselves.

    • The same line of thought lies behind the claim that a leader who is “not really a politician” is somehow better than the others. I don’t think the people who swallow this grasp just how dangerous such a politician is, even though they would see the problem at once if someone said the same thing about doctors, lawyers or engineers.

      The politician who is “not really a politician” can cheerfully dismantle or disregard the constraints associated with their office because they really don’t understand or care about their significance. If some silly old rule (like not making political use of privileged information) gets in the way of a helpful move, it is very easy for such a person to just override the rule, since he hardly knows what it is there for.

      One of the reasons that I want to see National deprived of a third term is because I want to see the end of PR construct leaders before the point-of-no-return is reached. It is also one of the reasons that I am grateful to Nicky Hager for writing his book.

      • I realised after I had written the above that someone might think I am advocating for the professional politician, as opposed to the train drivers and miners who entered politics in the early days of Labour. I am not. Those train drivers and miners passed the test of a real politician by earning their stripes – they were not fitted with a back story and parachuted in.

        • @ Olwyn: “Those train drivers and miners passed the test of a real politician by earning their stripes – they were not fitted with a back story and parachuted in.”

          Exactly. Key hadn’t done the hard work that politicians usually have to do, so he doesn’t know the system in the way that those who serve an apprenticeship do. In the early days, he traded on that goofy, non-political, silly-me-I-made-a-mistake schtick. And the media let him get away with it: he wasn’t called out on his missteps, as any other politician would have been. Witness the media treatment of Cunliffe – and in recent times, some National MPs. But, even after all this time, when the shine is clearly wearing off, they still let Key get away with bullying and ad hominem attacks. Note how he’s been referring to the Green-Labour combination all of this year at least.

          His charm – such as it is – is lost on me. I’ve thought him bogus, right from the very beginning.

    • @ Pat O’Dea: “I have heard this theme repeated ad nauseum by right wing talk back hosts, over decades, long before these latest revelations came up, going way, way back.”

      Indeed. I can recall it going right back to the Muldoon era. Although in his case, there was some justification: when it came to ad hominem attacks, bullying, and general political skulduggery, he could give lessons to the current lot.

  16. Excellent Post Chris Trotter . Thank you .
    I’ve wrapped myself in tin foil and I’m off to stand on a hill top with my thumb out . Since Australia now has abbott , I have to try for another planet .

  17. We have to remember that to the Nats, John Key is not just a leader, he is God. He can do no wrong – if he wants to do something, anything, then they see it as God’s will and thy will be done. Ever wondered why there is (outwardly at least) no dissension in the National ranks? Because you don’t disagree with God, or you go to hell.

  18. John Key tells us that Ms Collins has “refuted” the allegations. However, I think he should obtain a dictionary and look up the meanining of the word “refute”, as I suspect she has merely denied them, which is not at all the same thing.

    Or is his use of the word “refute” an attempt to con us into believing that there is nothing to the allegations

    • @Mikesh: “Or is his use of the word “refute” an attempt to con us into believing that there is nothing to the allegations”

      He uses the word incorrectly because, I’m guessing, his education doesn’t extend to knowing what it actually means. In that respect, he’s like many right-wingers, the evidence suggests. Not for nothing is “right-wing intellectual” something of an oxymoron.

  19. Good commentary Chris. A balanced and mature view.

    One small correction if I may:

    You said: “The sub-text here is simple: No one in politics has clean hands – even Hager.”

    Now we know that Slater and the National party have done nothing illegal you could adjust that sentence to say:

    The sub-text here is simple: No one in politics has clean hands – especially Hager.

    • @ Andrew: “Now we know that Slater and the National party have done nothing illegal…”

      Erm…. how do we know this? Do we even know it? Or are you being sarcastic?

  20. Instead of throwing our hands up in despair, I challenge you to each go out and find two people to enrol on the electoral roll and support them to vote. I did that yesterday, just went up to two young people who live on our street, handed them enrolment packs and got them talking. They are both now going to enrol and vote. Just do it! Get off the computer, get out in your neighbourhood and Get Out The Vote!

  21. One aspect of all this commentary and analysis, not of the Nickstar’s book but the fallout from the book that you and everyone else is not taking into account is the on line element. Of course politics has always been dirty, I’ve known that since I had my first job working for a government department over 35 years ago.

    We didn’t have the internet then, I remember we had books then that exposed dirty dealings and unpleasant shit that went on but their repercussions lasted as long people were bothered conversing about it and then once the conversation stopped, the scandal was dead. Their was no magnetic or electronic record of those thoughts and opinions but it’s different now.

    The way those nasty right wing bastards played us through their manipulation of our social media is what will do them in, I’m absolutely convinced of it. Their constant mantra that `if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear’ will blow back on them.

    Roll on September 15 and the town hall meeting at the centre of the cess pit, be more than a german and a sausage factory to have a look at Chris.

  22. What a difference a few days make, the Nats now backed into a corner with no exit and the prospect of emails drip fed daily till the 19th Sept, if anybody thought the the release of the book was it then they have no business being in politics, it has been a very carefully crafted plan right from the start, 1st the book then the hint of further exposure, then the start of drip feeding, giving Nicky breathing space and the scent of blood is enough to get MSM off their lazy butts for a change, then if all this is not enough there is the spectre of the 5 day out from the election disclosures by Dot Com and his guests, the weeks ahead a pure nightmare of wondering for every Nat and his sidekick.

  23. Nah, its time to chose what type of sausages you want to eat and knowledge is power. Too much fat, lots of bread filling or a fine venison sausage with real meat. The more the public understand about some of our National party Ministers and their association with people like Cameron Slater, Ede, Batnagar etc the more one can appreciate the true flavour of the sausage. Nasty, decidedly off and likely to make you throw up. I am determined not to vote for a political party that thinks the above is all OK ministerial behaviour and by extrapolation I am sure I am not alone. A butcher that sells rotten sausages normally goes out of business and people vote with their feet. Ministers are paid by us through taxation and we expect better standards than this from our Minister of Justice and others equally involved. Sorry.

  24. Now I know what “dirty politics” is. It’s not Muldoon questioning the Pomme origins of some unionist or even calling someone a homo in the full light of day. It’s intelligence gathering in order to discredit, or enable tit tat nasties (Judith Collins). It does seem that the right wing blogger who promotes the tobacco industry for money is no different from any advertiser but when he curries favour with one party by digging dirt on their behalf against another is in a different league. It’s the Premier Grade of Dirty Politics.

Comments are closed.