The injunction has been lifted and Scoop and NZPA have started to report on extracts from the book. My comments are based on the extracts only. Unless the author would like to e-mail me a pdf of the whole book, I won’t be able to read it until I return home in two weeks.
Scoop highlights that Brash was advised to get irritated if a line of questioning goes a certain way, Good God this happens with every party I am sure (which they acknowledge). I am sure Helen was told to pretend to be annoyed at Trevor for his comments in the House. Hell in preparation for the Keep It 18 press conference, I suggested that if any of the youth reps are asked if they have ever got massively drunk, they respond by asking the journalist the same question and refuse to answer. This is bog standard stuff, and like making a sausage is not pretty in public but not exceptional.
I was surprised to find out the apparent gaffe in revealing to Noelle McCarthy that Brash had met with the EBs, was in fact a rehearsed line scripted by Richard Long. Nothing exceptional in this again, but I am intrigued as to why they wanted that info out there, and why they let it be assumed it was a gaffe. I’m not sure if the book gives the context.
With the EBs, there is one email which was sent on behalf of the EB to Brash, Key and Steven Joyce outlining in May their intention to spend a million dollars “getting party votes for National”. This is called the smoking gun e-mail.
However it overlooks one obvious thing – that the nature of the campaign changed after getting advice. In fact we already know most of this from the Chief Electoral Office who said the EB approached him saying they wanted to campaign to get Don Brash made PM, and he advised them on what they coudl and could not do..
My understanding of the likely sequences of events (and this is not inside knowledge, just comes from me having asked a few questions over the last few months) is:
1) EB approach National (unsolicited) and say they want to spend a million dollars getting party votes for National.
2) National advises them (as it advised several other groups) that they are welcome to campaign, but need to do it in such a way it does not form part of National’s campaign.
3) EB approach Chief Electoral Officer and he advises them on what sort of wording is and is not acceptable so that they do not break the law.
4) EB amend their campaign so it complies with the law by not directly advocating votes for National..
Now one may claim that the overall aim was always to gain votes for National, but I am sure if you ask any union which does their own independent advertising, they would admit they of course want votes for Labour, by way of attacking National. But one frames the campaign in a way which complies with the law.
Now the article claims several National MPs or officials lied in denying knowledge of certain activities. I can’t comment or judge how true this might be without the book, and am sure the people concerned will speak up for themselves.
It is also claimed that it was a deliberate strategy by some in National to keep the EB’s identity as the authors of the pamphlets hidden. If accurate, this was the wrong thing to do. I have always advocated that the EB have a right to campaign, within the law, as they see fit. But they should have held a press conference to announce what they were doing. The public rightfully do not like the lack of disclosure. I would have thought people would have learnt the lesson from the last Auckland mayoral campaign where the copying of an NBR article attacking Hubbard backfired when the story became who was behind it.
But to confuse things, NZPA refers to another planned EB campaign on the issue of repairing defence links, but that the EB “agreed today to publicly take ownership of the campaign to avoid conspiracy theories” and “had agreed to say they had advised all political parties about the advertising campaign”.
Now this never happened it seems, but this is what should have happened. The EB campaign on an issue openly. I can’t tell enough from the story as to why this other campaign never happened.
My overall impression from the stories is that there is nothing in here which will indicates misbehaviour by National as a whole. I am sure a year’s worth of e-mails to and from any party leader would have similar. The two things which cause the most concern are:
(a) that some in National seemingly were aware the EB planned to keep their involvement secret, and did not counsel them otherwise. This, while not illegal, was a mistake.
(b) That the denial of knowledge of the EB campaign by some MPs, is not consistent with the e-mails in the book.
However I would caution not jumping to conclusions until one has heard context and explanations.
The book, while unhelpful to National (as I am sure a hypothetical book based on secret tape recordings between Helen, Trevor and Heather would be be equally unhelpful) doesn’t seem to live up to its hype. But again this is based on media extracts only.