19 August 2014

Dirty Politics: Who’s been damaged?

Almost a week since Nicky Hager dramatically changed the 2014 election campaign with ‘Dirty Politics’, his book is still making headlines, but it’s not clear where the damage resides. Only time – and opinion polls – will reveal if the tide’s going out on John Key, the National Party and the right. However, there’s still potential for the left to sustain damage, depending on how each side handles the story and what details are revealed.

So far, the National Party are feeling the most heat as journalists pick through the book, revelation by revelation. The pressure could come back on the left if the National Party has been able to convince New Zealanders that the book itself is dirty politics (Steven Joyce’s favourite line) or if the source of the hacked emails is disclosed and – crucially – if links can be drawn to left-wing parties.

Key and the right have primed the public not to believe Hager or the media. For many, Hager is the boy who cried wolf. Except Hager has emails detailing the wolf’s existence and villagers keep begrudgingly coming forward to confirm his sightings.

If you follow the debate on social media, it’s obvious hard-core National supporters are outraged by the hatchet job Hager has done on their man, while for those on the left it has just confirmed the nastiness of the right. Their votes aren’t changing. It’s the votes of the less politically-engaged that will be the difference.

Both National and Labour will be holding their breath until the next round of polls, which will gauge if people are changing their votes and who’s benefitting.

Unfortunately for Labour, unless it can sell itself as a viable Government in the coming weeks – something it hasn’t been able to do in the past three years – the main beneficiaries of votes lost by National are going to be NZ First or the Conservatives. National has taken every opportunity to ram home the message that Labour are an incoherent mess. Disaffected National voters will likely want to shift their votes to other parties with a stronger moral compass to send a message, but not necessarily to the left.

There are interesting times ahead, with many opportunities for missteps as the book unravels the careers of politicians on both sides of the house. The next polls will just show which way the wind is blowing, not the extent of the damage, which by the end of the campaign could be extensive.

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