The Triumvirate of Terror?

Andrea Vance has written an article about my mate Simon Lusk. Good on her for tenaciously following up where others fear to tread and actually getting an interview with Simon. It is currently upland game season so for her to have got an interview during that is some feat.

Simon Lusk is one of the most intriguing figures in politics. The arch political fixer shuns the limelight, rarely venturing from his home in Havelock North to Wellington. He maintains a strict silence about his clients – mostly wannabe National MPs.

He is said to charge $10,000 to manage an electorate election campaign, and his successes are believed to include National’s senior whip Louise Upston, and MPs Chris Tremain, Nicky Wagner and Sam Lotu-Iiga.

I’m not sure Simon discounts his fees that much.

Certainly, Labour are fixated on this Right-wing bogeyman. Last year, the party’s chief whip Chris Hipkins lodged 259 written questions of ministers, asking about their communication with Mr Lusk. According to political lore, he was behind Don Brash’s unseating of ACT leader Rodney Hide. 

Some blogs claim Mr Lusk was behind leaking the identity of ACC whistleblower Bronwyn Pullar last year, (his response: “I can’t comment on specific cases”).

Some believe he is a Whaleoil alter-ego – regularly penning posts for Cameron Slater’s Right-wing blog. Others say he is close to Cabinet minister Judith Collins, and the pillar of a triumvirate of Nasty Nats, including Slater and pollster and Kiwiblog founder David Farrar.

Nasty Nats? Andrea really shouldn’t have bothered speaking with Mr Clifton and should have come up with a better line than that.  I’d prefer Triumvirate of Terror…and Farrar is right the second triumvirate could proscribe enemies and there is much merit in proscription. Chris Hipkins made a goat’s cock of himself with all those questions…and got nothing back in response.

Leaked National Party minutes last year revealed concerns about breakaway training camps for local body candidates, run by Mr Lusk and Slater. According to the notes, then-chief whip Michael Woodhouse reported “a disturbing discussion that he has had with Simon Lusk that highlighted his motivations and a very negative agenda for the party”.

And more recently, Mr Lusk has been suggested to be the bagman National brought in to persuade rogue MP Aaron Gilmore to quit. Certainly, Mr Gilmore appears to believe Mr Lusk was the architect of his downfall – he was a recipient of one of the infamous “utu” text messages.

It is disappointing that National is too useless to knife a known leaker to Labour in a ministers office. Perhaps they should give Simon a call to rinse the cuprit.

In the flesh, Mr Lusk, 40, is disappointingly un-evil. There’s no maniacal laugh or sophisticated spinning, just a man who drives a ute and dotes on his three dogs, Bruce, Lucy and Mabo. He is punctilious and very serious, absorbed with politics and fixated on going fishing and hunting.

Simon has been known to just drop his phone to iron out a pheasant that jumps at just the wrong time…you hear it flush, the gun fire and then some rustling as he picks the phone back up to continue the conversation.

So does he do National’s dirty work? Like any true political animal, he is the master of (very politely) avoiding questions he doesn’t like.

“I am detached from the day-to-day and can look beyond the next 36 hours and see likely outcomes and how to prevent them. Change in politics is predictable and I like to be on the right side of change.”

He admits that some “object” to his methods.

“Political parties always need people who are willing to upset the status quo . . . As to nastiness, I am temperamentally unable to be as nasty as some of the Labour Party.”

Upsetting the status quo is good, and necessary in politics. It keeps people ion their toes.

Andrea Vance then extensively quotes a National party source…from the vocabulary used this will be the indiscreet board member who leaks like a proverbial sieve and really should know better. He is not known for his courage under fire and has serious problem with credibility himself when the court cases start.

There was also substantiated concern that he was using a “carrot and stick” approach to attracting clients. The carrot was his skills, the stick was unfavourable coverage on the Whaleoil blog. These were whispers, which no-one ever came forward to confirm. Mr Lusk is “blunt, but I wouldn’t say nasty”, the source says.

Hmmm how can they be substantiated if no one would come forward to confirm?

Mr Lusk is loyal to Slater but won’t admit to being a contributor to his blog.

“When the National Party came whispering to me that being associated with Cam was bad for my career I told them that Cam’s tenure meant he was too important to drop as a career,” Mr Lusk says.

National ran a pretty nasty inside campaign against Simon and myself. Peter Goodfellow himself tried to cancel my membership, held up a renewal for 6 months and personally rang an electorate chair, an MP and several committee members to try to block my membership. the party now has specific Whaleoil and Lusk clauses written into candidates college applications which is hilarious. Do they not think we have copies of it all?

I’ve even had people tell me that if I wanted to go further in politics then I’d better shut up…when that comes from people in their 60s and I’m in my forties I can safely assume that I will outlast them, and the fact that they issued such threats shows I am already outwitting them.

The rule also applies for campaign managers. “Simon knows this, he understands that . . . but if you want to be involved you do so as a volunteer, prove your worth, do stuff for free,” the source says.

He is “good, better than 85 per cent [of consultants] out there. But not quite as good as he thinks he is,” the source adds.

Ahh the do stuff for free brigade, another senior member who ironically charges professional services fees to the party himself…his pals are likewise employed in jobs where their professional services are charged. Hypocrites the lot of them. You pay a printer for quality materials, you pay a lawyer for professional advice, same with an accountant, you pay a speech coach but bizarrely these old coots think that the one person who will actually provide you with sound political and carrer advice should do it for free is just…well…dumb. The unnamed coward who snitched to Vance freely admits that Simon is better than the old 80/20 rule…he is the 85/15 rule. No wonder people see value in what he does.

“He provides a very good, professional service. There was a hole in the market and he will put together a first-class campaign and a comms [communications] plan. There’s not many people can do that.”

However, there may be “too many bridges burned” with the current party hierarchy.

Heh…just shows how dumb the party hierarchy are to have even made that statement. Being an upland game hunter Simon is nothing if not patient and cunning. The current hierarchy won’t be in any position after the next election to influence anyone’s career negatively or even positively, they will all be either voted out, resigned or retired. Same with the current parliamentary wing. In 20 years time even more so, but the Triumvirate will still be operating.


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  • Orange

    very entertaining read

  • unsol

    Is this the much anticipated 10.30am read?

    I read this article earlier – good to see an actual interview with the man.

    I like his tactics – or at least what he was happy to divulge.

    Question is does this cloak & dagger stuff help or hinder democracy?

    I would say the latter.

    Much better to lay your cards on the table & let the people decide for themselves – more people need to be involved with our political parties so that we have more say on who runs for a seat & what policies get put forward.

    Seems to be that NZ politics has completely lost its way where the lines are so blurred that the only thing they can agree on is to stand for nothing & fall for anything.

    We need people with conviction and charisma.

    • You criticise Simon but in the next breathe say we need “people with conviction and charisma”. Simon has more conviction than pretty much the entire caucus which is probably why many don’t like him.

      He and me really don’t care about the current leadership, we are looking far more into the future than the current election cycle.

      • unsol

        Not a criticism of him per se, more the accepted practice of back room dealings.

        All very well claiming to be looking towards the future Cameron, but does that future involve democracy or not?

        We have a society that is increasingly disenfranchised & disconnected with politics – especially if the voter participation of the last election is anything to go by, so our political future needs to be one that is more transparent not less.

        Simon might very well have strong convictions, but he isn’t the face of politics is he? And his type of work tends to inhibit rather than encourage people to be more involved in politics & what policies are implemented.

        People never respond well to feeling that the wool is being pulled over their eyes yet his kind of work – which we all knows involves pulling certain strings to get the desired results – is exactly that.

        It encourages discontent & disconnection from the democratic process as it implies that no matter who someone is, what they have to offer, what skills they have, hidden agendas and money are always at play.

        So if he is as passionate as he & you claim then perhaps he needs to come out of the shadows & put his money where his mouth is – run for a seat, get involved openly & put that great brain to much better work such as coming up with a way to wean this country off welfare ASAP.

        Seems to me he is far more qualified than the potential candidates he supports.

        And so are you – stop biting so easy. Drop the nasty, trash & porn & be the charismatic & principled man we all know you are.

        You ran for Auckland CC so why not the central govt? You are well received on the Nation which has to mean something?

        I want to see clever principled people represent us who actually have a clue about where this country needs to go

      • fozzie2

        Yes we need people of conviction – but not charisma, but courage and vision. Spell out what you, Lusk, Farrar etc see in this future plan. The Nats and Labour are fixated with charisma – we were is that taking us as a nation ? A nice smile and wave does not good policy make ..

  • Michael

    I’ve heard Lusk talk about campaigning, he is spot on. If the party heirarchy aren’t listening then they’re in the wrong.

    • They fear what they can’t control and like to think they are the one holding the steering wheel.

      • Michael

        They’re a bunch of bullies. You toe the line, you get taken care of. Challenge them and you’re out. Hence the party is full of (white middle class and elder blue rinse) “yes men” and is possibly going to set itself up for the kind of fall that ended Social Credit as a political force in NZ.

  • GregM

    Very good reading. The current heirarchy has allowed the party to slip leftwards over the last 10 years or so, and have done nothing to stop it. The whole lot of them need to go. Also, any member that leaks anything to the opposition needs to be sacked forthwith and their membership terminated. National is going to have to start playing hardball within the party, and Simon Lusk is the man to start the bowling. I rate him very highly.

    If they don’t start now, in 10 years time they will be as irrelevant as the Labour party is now.

  • Gulfing

    Does this mean one of you is our Malcolm Tucker?? If so, see off Hekia will you?? PM, please!