Editorial: No-one clean in 'dirty politics'

Author and investigative journalist Nicky Hager has wielded a mighty sword, penning allegations of National Party ''dirty politics'' in a book of that name released on Wednesday night.

The book attacks Prime Minister John Key and his administration, claiming hacked emails show National has an ''unseen side'', including using ''attack blogs'' such as Cameron Slater's Whale Oil and David Farrar's Kiwiblog to denigrate political opponents.

National contacts including Justice Minister Judith Collins and Mr Key's press secretary Jason Ede are named as having close links with Mr Slater. It claims Mr Slater and Mr Ede used personal information about Labour Party members accessed after being alerted to a weakness in Labour's website.

It also claims Mr Slater was given information from the Beehive allowing him to ask precise questions through the Official Information Act, and that Mr Key's office tipped him off about secret documents held by the Security Intelligence Service.

The National Party, Mr Slater and Mr Farrar have dismissed the claims. A spokesperson for the prime minister called it a ''cynically timed attack book from a well-known left-wing conspiracy theorist'' which makes ''all sorts of unfounded allegations''.

Labour Party leader David Cunliffe is considering what action the party might take. The Green Party says it will lodge complaints, including with police, and adds it will hold a Royal Commission of Inquiry if elected.

Mr Slater says he, too, intends to complain to the police, over the hacking of his website, and to the Privacy Commission. All this before most people have had time to fully read, verify, digest and respond to the book's contents.

The timing of the book's launch - a month before the general election - will be labelled by some as every bit as ''dirty'' as the politics its alleges. Mr Hager says voters need to be made aware of the claims. He will be aware of the laws of libel and the burden of proof.

He is no stranger to controversy - or to penning works that have had serious implications for politicians previously. Some believe he has thrown a grenade into the political arena. Others say there is nothing ''new'' in the fact politicians choose which journalists to whom they feed information.

With parties beginning election campaigns, politicians themselves have timed major policy announcements and attacks for a period during which they will get maximum exposure. Internet Party founder Kim Dotcom has even promised to reveal incriminating revelations about the prime minister in the days before the election. This is prime time for politicking of all kinds.

Politicians can hardly argue they have been squeaky clean of late. The prime minister's labelling of Mr Dotcom as Internet Party leader Laila Harre's ''sugar daddy'' was seen as sexist and offensive.

Labour Party Rangitata candidate Steven Gibson's labelling of the prime minister as ''Shylock'' was an unacceptable racist slur on his Jewish heritage and made a mockery of Labour leader David Cunliffe's ''Vote Positive'' campaign.

New Zealand First leader Winton Peters' ''two Wongs don't make a right'' joke is offensive, and Act New Zealand leader Jamie Whyte's race-based comments questionable.

The defence by Mr Dotcom and Ms Harre that students were exercising their democratic thoughts by chanting ''F*** John Key'' at an Internet Mana party when the atmosphere was clearly fuelled by Mr Dotcom does not wash.

It can hardly be surprising in such an atmosphere the public responds with similar mindless and offensive actions, including burning a John Key effigy. Such kindergarten tit-for-tat antics only render politicians' words hollow. The focus should be on issues: the likes of health, education, welfare, housing and financial security.

However, at least two of the allegations in Dirty Politics - the use of information from the Labour Party website and claims about leaking SIS information - are certainly serious if true. One commentator has likened them to ''Watergate''. It is clearly in the public interest to have those issues further explored.

When everyone has done dishing dirt, what remains to be seen is to whom the mud might stick - and whether the revelations will be a political game-changer.