Not business as usual: Key's leadership style & the bloggersphere

Claims the Prime Minister must have known about dirty politics around him ignore the reality of his CEO style and the Law Commission has more work to do on new media

Two weeks ago I suggested this could turn into New Zealand's first policy-free election; my instinct seems to have been proven correct. While policy debates are still occuring around the fringes, there is no way now that with just two weeks to go that the Opposition parties are going to let the fallout from Dirty Politics go. And there is still the Dotcom revelation to come.

All of the media commentators, whether left or right, are now obsessed with the issue, and have their own prescriptions of what should happen. They have become players as much as they are commentators. As much as the parties, they are not going to let the issue go.

One thing is clear; they cannot believe that John Key does not know everything that happens in his government and in his ministers' Offices. In many respects that is how Prime Ministers have operated in the past, with extremely tight controls.

John Key has a different style than the traditional style of New Zealand political management. He delegates in the manner of a chief executive, and lets ministers get on with their jobs.

The most successful chief executives take a strategic approach to their roles. And this is the experience that Key has brought to the role of the Prime Minister. But it is a different approach to the micro-management that is the typical expectation of the world of politics.

Both Simon Power and myself remarked this on in our valedictory addresses. Major things could happen in our portfolios and it was our discretion as to whether we thought it was necessary to advise the Prime Minister. Each of our portfolios had particularly sensitive issues. Not all of them required the attention of the Prime Minister, particularly given the challenges he was dealing with arising from the GFC and the Christchurch earthquakes.

So I am not the least surprised that the Prime Minister did not personally approve the release of specific OIA’s. Staff in his office were trusted with responsibility for such things.

However, I suspect that voters will want some clarity on the facts behind these issues. They will want to have some inkling from the investigation by the Inspector General of Security as to what has actually happened.

In my item, I referred to the blogosphere as being as ungoverned as the Wild West. But the revelation that the subject on an SFO Inquiry would allegedly pay a group of bloggers to besmirch the investigating office is surely a new low. Readers of Whaleoil were certainly aware of many posts questioning the SFO and also the Financial Markets Authority. That just seemed to conform to the general style of Whaleoil. But in fact seems it it was a paid for hit-job.

The Law Commission’s report into new media did not envisage that this could happen, but now has, or at least the released emails point to that. One of the strengths of the MSM is that readers can reasonably assume that hard-hitting investigative journalists are not being paid for by one of the protagonists in the issue. While the journalists may have a clearly understood political perspective, this is usually apparent on the face of the news item. This is part of the trust the society has in the idea of a free and independent media.

Can society really afford to have the blogosphere limited only by the criminal law and the law of defamation? 

The Law Commission’s report into new media is increasingly looking like unfinished business.