What Collins' resignation means for journalism & the campaign

The pressure of good journalism by many over a period of weeks was at the heart of the weekend's major developments, and it means the next 20 days will be unlike any we've seen

Isn't it curious how often major scandals end in farce and how often it really is cock-up rather than conspiracy? Judith Collins' fate was decided in the end by friendly fire, an accident of one of her own. And it just goes to show that you really are defined by the people you surround yourself with. And that pressure and persistence counts.

Let's be clear, it's not a matter of scalps and the resignation as such that matters. It's the promise of an inquiry and the fact some serious claims that tried to be spun away are now going to have to be addressed.

There are so many questions yet to be answered, but I'd hope that some of them arte around the handling of the Hanover investigation by the authorities. I know there were some good people doing their best in that, but it did take an incredibly long amount of time and the civil charges ultimately laid were a disappointment to a great many. The smear campaign attempted, allegedly, by Hotchins and his team of reputation assassins must prompt a re-look at that investigation.

It's interesting to see in the Whaledump today the observation by Cathy Odgers that Financial Markets' Authority boss Sean Hughes' appearance on Q+A in 2012 to announce the civil charges being filed against "directors and promoters of the Hanover group of companies, in particular Mr Watson, Mr Mark Hotchin, Mr Greg Muir, Sir Tipene ORegan, Mr Bruce Gordon and Mr Dennis Broit" was "pure PR".

I got that interview after months of checking in with the FMA about a promised interview on the topic, but when it came it was a surprise that we got an exclusive on such a major announcement. I know many other journalists following the story were furious the FMA gave it to one programme and didn't do a general release.

Now it's not unwise or unusual for someone to choose a single media outlet as a way to make an announcement. Indeed, much of the work of weekend current affairs programmes is convincing those in power to make announcement on your programme, so that you break news and are the first to be able to ask challenging questions about that announcement. But it is unusual for such a long-awaited announcement to be made that way. As delighted as I was to get the interview, I think it's important to say there was no collusion between the FMA and Q+A beyond my urging them to take the opportunity to make the announcement on a credible programme and in a venue where the issue could be explored for more than two minutes.

And while we're talking about journalism, I want to briefly praise the role good journalists have played in the past few weeks and stress why independent journalists are so vital to the political and institutional health of this country.

There has been an immense amount of spin since Nicky Hager's book was released, much of it trying to convince everyone there's nothing to see here. Some journalists have been taken up that catch cry. But it was clear within a few days of the book's release that while there was room for debate about some of Hager's judgments on some of the events he described, there were at least three specific allegations in the book that were very serious indeed, possibly criminal.

We can all think of journalists, broadcasters and columnists who have missed the importance of the issues raised in the past three weeks, but I'd like to praise those who have worked hard to get to the bottom of the story. (Not that we're there yet).

Matt Nippert and David Fisher were in the privileged position of being contacted by the hacker, but they took the material given thus far, have analysed it responsibly and written important reports on what they've found. Other journalists with less access have also pursued the story diligently and pushed for answers from those in power. Some questions have led up cul-de-sacs, some have led to another question and on and on.

The point is, like in a game of rugby, the pressure applied has shown cracks appearing in the defence.

There is all kind of talk about blogs and journalism and how people spin and are spun these days. But in truth it all goes back to decency and good choices by journalists. Of course we trade in information, but journalists are defined by their efforts to verify and check and question. Even with limited time and resources, journalists do their best to get it right in time for deadline, and if not by that deadline then by the next.

I've written in defence of New Zealand journalists many times on this blog, and many of you have jeered me for it. On occassion, that's been fair enough. As I've always written, we all have bad days at work and make mistakes. But I hope the good work on display in recent weeks makes those of you who are so endlessly critical of the journalism in this country and are so determined to see conspiracies and biases in every story or interview pause and re-think.

That terrible thing "the mainstream media" may be stretched, under-resourced, make mistakes, get torn this way and that by spin and information trading and complex agendas. But at the core of the business is that determination to check and ask and check again. And that's why, as I've often said, journalism is different from most blogging and something to be appreciated, even if you don't always like the conclusions.

But even some blogging, such as Andrew Geddis' posts here amongst others, has kept the pressure on and ensured questions keep being asked and the public are not allowed to turn away from something, frankly, they didn't really want to look at.

As for the politics, well, what's remarkable about where we are now is that no-one knows where are now. No-one knows where the bottom is or where this story ends.

The big question for me is in the mindset of the swing voter. At what point does that person make the mental shift from "they're all at it, they're all the bloody same" to thinking "this is different". At what point to they stop blaming politics and start blaming National and John Key in particular? That is now the tipping point of this election.

Key's job in these next 20 days is to stop people crossing that Rubicon, because if they do his Rome will fall. National's strategy has to be to build a wall around Key's own integrity and offer him to voters as a safe pair of hands, largely because that was the core of their election strategy anyway.

The problem is that he's undermined it himself since that Wednesday night when Hager's book was released. Key and his strategists went for all-out attack, for complete denial; they tried to brazen it out. That choice was been shown to be a very bad one indeed.

Whether or not you can use the word corruption yet – and I'm not sure you can – the word 'hubris' certainly comes to mind. Key and Joyce and co thought they could tough it out and shout others down even when they knew Hager was telling a story that was atits core fundamentally true; they were over-confident and they're now paying the price.

I've often written that it would be Key's looseness that did for him; that it's what we first love about a leader than we grow to dislike them for. This isn't the kind of looseness I was thinking of, but it does make my point for me. He was running a party that was playing too fast and loose with the truth and people's reputations and now it's biting him on his political bum.

Whether or not it costs Key this election is very uncertain, but I'd wager it's cost him the 2017 election even if he makes it through this month. His Holyoake dream seems beyond repair to me. The seed is planted and will be reaped in three years, if not in three weeks.

But it also gives Labour a chance. Thus far the polls have given them nothing because people have been so unimpressed by what they've seen. But I've also written previously that Cunliffe needed voters to take another look at him. Well, the Collins' resignation and the realisation in many voters' minds that this is a serious issue, not just a "left wing conspiracy" certainly give Cunliffe a chance to present him and his party in a new light. It's a very, very short period of time, but he has a rare (indeed probably unique) chance to recast himself as a Prime Minister-in-waiting.

It's going to be a fascinating 20 days.