You do not have to be a conspiracy theorist to believe that the police's Brash "stolen emails" inquiry review is a good thing
I was once introduced to a police officer involved with the Don Brash stolen emails inquiry. We were both at the play, The Hollow Men.
His presence reminded me - hopefully unfairly - of the moustached detectives in Tintin chronicles, Thomson and Thompson, who show up in the most absurd locations in their hunt for criminal masterminds.
Unfortunately for the kiwi police, the plot of the play did not give away who wrote the emails.
There weren’t many obvious suspects in the audience, either. Unless you count Deborah Coddington, who laughed a lot (mainly at the fact that the actress playing Diane Foreman looked a lot like the real-life Donna Awatere Huata in her blonde period).
Rodney Hide was there too, and – come to think of it – he was fiddling suspiciously with his Blackberry. Most likely, though, he was reporting back to the Centre for Independent studies – the benign, low-key, liberal think-tank that the play absurdly portrayed in its opening moments as a pivotal part of a vast “far right” conspiracy.
The Hollow Men the book was a huge scoop that changed New Zealand politics. And it created a scandal that seems to keep on generating news stories, two years later.
Author Nicky Hager argues here on Pundit that, from the centre of the latest stories about the Brash emails, he is seeing the media being played disgracefully by spin doctors.
As someone with a lot more distance from the story, I disagree.
Hager asserts that “National and its allies” have been spinning the news media by pushing the angle that the emails were stolen.
Hager claims that Brash only reported the matter to the police because he cynically wanted to divert attention from himself. As a strategy, this appears to have failed rather spectacularly, what with Brash having been forced to resign the leadership and all.
It is also a short-sighted strategy that one would have expected Brash to abandon once he was out of office. (Many in National today would dearly love Brash to have shut up, that's for sure. In PR terms, what he has done has continuously reminded people of the muck that ended his leadership. Not the winning PR strategy that Hager sees it as).
The reason why Brash and those around him continue banging on about the emails is not to “divert” attention from themselves two years after the story broke, but because they genuinely believe that theft or computer hacking are the most likely explanations for how the emails got out.
Are they right? For us to take Hager’s explanation of the 'six person leak' at face value requires that six different people connected closely enough to Brash or the party to access the emails (not a huge group), all became disconcerted with Brash’s leadership, and all decided that – rather than resigning, joining another political party, or getting back at Brash in some traditional way – the most sensible option open to them was to collect and funnel emails to an ideological foe of Brash, one Nicky Hager – and for all six to do so in such a cunning way that they would not be detected after the fact.
It is true that Brash and at least some of his key email contacts liberally used the “CC” email function. Perhaps, though, we should just take Hager's 'six person leak' claim with a grain of salt. He's not going to make Brash - or the police's - job easier in detecting how he got the emails, and that's perfectly fine.
It's a bit rich, though, for Hager to criticise the media for reporting Brash's concern: “Can you imagine," Hager asks, "the media running two years of stories in which I claimed the National Party had broken into my house, where I could produce no evidence at all and where the police couldn't find any either? They would rightfully say that they couldn't possibly publish defamatory allegations like that unless I produced solid proof.”
I imagine that if the National Party published a book of Hager’s personal email correspondence, then the media would be interested in Hager’s opinion about how National may have obtained those. Calling the claims being made in the media "defamatory" seems over-the-top to me, but it's always something that Hager could test in court.
Hager is right to laugh at the suggestion of “a Labour-led government-police cover up of e-mail theft”. But the fact remains that Brash and others believe that the police inquiry was inadequate, and a thief or hacker is at large.
The answer to the “who took the emails” riddle will only ever interest a tiny group of people in Wellington politics. (Oddly enough, this was the group that was least surprised by the banality of what the emails contained: evidence of how tightly the meetings between politicians and the public are scripted, controlled and contrived.)
It is unlikely that the review now announced by the police will tell us who did it – or that we’ll ever know, barring a confession in the distant future.
But, if it manages to put some of the wilder conspiracy theories to rest and assures Brash and the public that the police explored all the reasonable avenues properly, then that can only be a good thing.
And I would love to find out what was discovered by New Zealand's thin blue line at the Hollow Men play.