Post about Nicky Hager's book "Dirty Politics' on The Standard.
In May 2013 Andrea Vance wrote an article about far-Right National Party member and political strategist, Simon Lusk. Four of Lusk’s clients in 2008 and three in 2011 were successful in being selected as National Party candidates. These included Nicky Wagner, Sam Lotu-liga, Chris Tremain and Louise Upston who was appointed Chief Whip in the 2013 cabinet reshuffle that also saw Jamie-Lee Ross, another client of Lusk’s in the 2011 selection round, promoted to Third Whip.
Vance’s article is worth re-reading to see how much of what she reported as ‘political lore’, ‘claims’, ‘rumours’ and Labour Party ‘fixation’ has been confirmed by the disclosures in Nicky Hager’s book, ‘Dirty Politics”.
Hager argues that, since Key took over as party leader from Don Brash, National has been following a ‘two-track’ strategy – fabricating a public image of Key as personable, populist and politically moderate, while a covert strategy relies heavily on unscrupulous and vicious attack politics delivered via social media – in particular, Cameron Slater’s Whaleoil blog.
These attacks have not just been on political opponents, they’ve also been used against moderates and the ‘old guard’ in the National Party itself.
Hager’s book proves that Lusk and Slater worked together to further the selection of far-Right candidates by attacking their opponents and non-compliant Party officials. The exposure of this far-Right agenda within the National Party is one of the book’s most important elements so it’s interesting that most of the mainstream media have ignored or downplayed it 1.
The internal attacks were sometimes couched in Slater’s trademark belligerent and ungracious style, and sometimes in a more subtle way – such as damning by faint praise or by posing as the guardians of ethical standards in candidate selection.
When Stuart Smith, an ex-President of the NZ Winemakers Association, successfully challenged the incumbent in the safe National seat of Kaikoura, a post on Whaleoil said:
Challenges are good for the party, they should be encouraged as they drive membership and engagement. This challenge should also pose as a warming (sic) to meddling board members that their days of whispering campaigns and threats are over. The next people to be rinsed will be them…especially the longer serving and out of touch ones.
On November 10th 2013, in more typical Slater-style, it was claimed that Whaleoil would never take sides
…unless some stupid fundy tries to break all the rules and rig selection, or if some factional war lords wearing drag try to impose a candidate on an electorate.
These sort of statements are typical of the mendacity and hypocrisy of the cabal that has used Whaleoil to conduct dirty tricks campaigns within the National Party aimed at advancing candidates who were current or potential clients of Simon Lusk. Those who Lusk and Slater advised and helped get selected had to be a good fit with Lusk’s stated plan to build a “loose alliance of committed fiscal conservatives” to take the National Party more to the far-Right.
In “Dirty Politics”, Hager details a 2011 Whaleoil smear campaign against two candidates for the Rodney seat, Brent Robinson and Scott Simpson, and the electorate chair Cehill Pienaar. Simpson eventually gave up and sought and won selection in Coromandel, and Pienaar resigned. The Rodney selection was won by Mark Mitchell, who was one of Lusk’s clients. (Somewhat bizarrely, in light of his attacks on him, Slater now refers to Simpson as ‘my best friend in caucus’.)
Long time readers will know this blog does not support any candidate for selection in National seats, believing in fair play and ethics in selections at all times. In 2011 WOBH outed the skullduggery in Rodney where Brent Robinson and Cehill Pienaar tried to jack up a selection by not following the rules or the unwritten selection etiquette of the party. ….The electorate chair was forced to resign the day after the selection, and deservedly so as there is no place for dodgy behaviour from impartial office-holders in the National Party.
It goes on to say that “certain electorate chairs haven’t learned that they need to remain impartial” and accuses the Hunua chair, Ian McDougall, of committing the same ‘skullduggery’ as Pienaar had in Rodney – trying to influence branches over who to select to replace Paul Hutchinson who had resigned.
If this is true is (sic) an absolute disgrace and McDougall should be forced to resign immediately. There is no place in the National Party for officials elected in the expectation that they will be impartial to take partisan positions.…..The Party hierarchy needs to investigate the skullduggery in Hunua immediately.
The gall of this is breathtaking if you know that Slater and Lusk had smeared candidates and officials in Rodney in 2011 to ensure the selection of Lusk’s client, Mark Mitchell. Lusk and Slater set up camp on the moral high ground and claimed to be acting as impartial guardians of National Party ethics and procedures whilst taking pot shots at yet another electorate chair who got in the way of their preferred candidate.
In November Slater claimed MacDougall had tried to ‘rinse’ the outgoing MP Paul Hutchinson in the past. In March Slater said that Paul Hutchinson was an ‘old duffer’ who ‘was going to get hammered by a well-organised selection challenge’.
Slater was not referring to a challenge from Kael Roberts who he’d alleged McDougall was supporting, but to the eventual winner, Andrew Bayly. Even if Andrew Bayly has no connection to Lusk or Slater, their attacks on his opponent via a smear campaign against the electorate chair means suspicion hangs over him.
In truth, anyone who has been selected for a safe National seat over the past three elections who paid for Lusk’s services, attended Lusk’s candidates’ colleges, or whose opponents were attacked on Whaleoil is tainted by association.
Lusk was quoted by Vance as saying that Chris Tremain would not beat Labour’s Stuart Nash (who Lusk described as ‘an exceptionally gifted politician’) and this assertion was repeated on Whaleoil in March this year. Tremain duly resigned his seat.
Kate Wilkinson, who took the fall for the Pike River disaster, resigned her Waimakirriri seat. Slater claims she ‘got the arse at the same time as Heatly,mainly for being far to cosy with the unions’. She has been replaced by Matt Doocey, one of the Carter family.
Phil Heatley, who was ‘given the arse by John Key from cabinet …couldn’t see much point in hanging around’ had taken Whangarei from marginal seat status to a 12000+ majority. He resigned and has been replaced by Shane Reti.
One who did not take the hint was Colin King and in November 2013 Whaleoil was at it again with the headline “Skullduggery in Kaikoura”.
The post contained covert threats about what would happen if there was any attempt by ‘old buggers’ to influence the contest. It reminded people (who supported King) that Whaleoil has ‘eyes and ears everywhere’, that he knows ‘who they speak to, what they say and who they saying to to’ (sic). He ends by reminding people how easily Whaleoil could use its voice against them.
The seat was won by Stuart Smith who has been a National Party member for just two years. The outcome was announced at the meeting but no details were given of the votes cast for each candidate and the voting papers were destroyed immediately.
A commenter on Whaleoil’s Soapbox on June 21st confirmed what I’ve heard that a lot of grass roots National supporters in Kaikoura are angry about King’s deselection and are worried about the strong challenge from the Labour candidate. And of course there’s the off-shore oil drilling issue in Kaikoura itself.
There was widespread speculation that, prior to this election, many National Party MPs in safe seats had been told that it was time to step down. There are rumours of large cash payouts being made to sweeten the deal for some of them. Whatever the reasons and however it was managed, there has been a major clearing out of MPs – something that Slater has been crowing about and has taken delight in contrasting National’s rejuvenation’ with the retrenchment of Labour’s old guard in safe electorate seats.
Andrea Vance quoted Lusk’s prediction that the holders of several safe seats will retire including “John Key, Murray McCully, Gerry Brownlee and Bill English” and says that Lusk “confirms he is acting for potential successors.” Lusk claimed in an email to Slater that he has “at least half a dozen people in their twenties who will be in caucus one day”.
Predicting that politicians will retire is hardly proof of great political insight, but it’s interesting that one of the senior MPs who Lusk named, resigned his seat to go onto the Party List. Bill English was succeeded in Clutha-Southland by Todd Barclay who, by the age of 23, had got a degree, worked as a lobbyist for a tobacco company and as an intern for Hekia Parata and Gerry Brownlee, and gained sufficient political knowledge and nous to justify his selection for a National citadel formerly occupied by one of the Party’s most senior and respected people.
That’s truly incredible – in the ‘impossible to believe’ sense of the word.
Another young person with political ambitions who Lusk described as a ‘client’, is Sam Johnson, who was catapulted into celebrity by being the public face of the Student Volunteer Army in the aftermath of the Canterbury earthquakes.
Johnson, who was named Young New Zealander of the Year in 2012, is the sort of young, politically ambitious National Party member that Lusk wants to get on board – advancing the far-Right agenda by creating long term relationships based on shared ideology and – importantly – indebtedness.
People who get places by being associated with unscrupulous ideologues who use overt and covert dirty tricks, will always be hostages to fortune. That fact alone makes this a serious threat to democracy and should concern all of us – the more so because the influence of far-Right political strategists like Lusk is not the full picture. There’s also the influence of big business in who gets into safe seats in electorates and into high places on the party list.
Hager points to the use of Slater’s blog by commercial interests, like tobacco industry lobbyist Carrick Graham who has deep family roots in the National Party. In exchange for significant sums of money, Slater placed articles under his name on Whaleoil that were written by Graham. Had these openly promoted smoking that would be bad enough but, like the candidate selection scenario, the Whaleoil articles smeared the reputations of anyone opposed to Big Tobacco.
There are at least two National Party candidates who were lobbyists for tobacco companies, Todd Barclay and Hutt South candidate Chris Bishop who, at 49 on the list, would be expected to make it into Parliament unless National’s vote collapses. Then there’s the influence of the dairy, alcohol and oil industries whose interests are also best served by a government that minimises controls over how big business operates.
The truth the New Zealand electorate needs to face is that the far-Right smear campaigns have not just been against the Left but have been waged against National’s ‘wets’ – those who Slater and Co disparage as ‘old buggers’, ‘old duffers’, ‘old tuskers‘, ‘numpties‘, the ‘sitting scum‘, the MPs with a ‘difficult missus’ – and worse.
We all know how this would have been spun by the Right and their supporters in the media had anything like this grubby shoe been on the other foot. The evidence of that is in the way the rightwing media has spun innocuous and tangential issues into major controversies to whip up political and moral indignation against the Left in this and the previous two elections.
There is NO leftwing equivalent of Whaleoil or of Lusk whose objective is to take the National Party permanently to the far-Right. The Left and moderates in the National Party need to realize that the polarization that started with the hi-jacking of the Labour Party by neo-liberals in the 1980s is being accelerated and intensified by a National Party that has been hijacked by the same type of soulless, money-grubbing bastards. It’s beyond time we sent them ALL packing.
Te Whare Whero
A conspiracy theorist could be forgiven for thinking that’s because drawing attention to those sitting MPs and candidates who are associated with Lusk could have far more impact on the outcome of the election than Judith Collins’ leaking of information to Slater and fast tracking OIA requests, and the question of who is in charge of the SIS.