Dirty politics is back, but who is slinging the mud?  

After another brutal day of internecine conflict, Simon Bridges and Jami-Lee Ross mutually accused each other of playing dirty. 

Ross cast the first stone, having to defend his involvement with figures from Nicky Hager’s 2014 book, Dirty Politics. 

Newsroom reported on Tuesday that figures within the National Party believed Ross was being advised by Simon Lusk, a political advisor who was accused of dirty politicking in Hager’s book.

A National Party source told Newsroom they believed Lusk to be once again advising Ross, saying his “handprints are all over this”.  

Lusk would not comment on whether or not he was advising Ross, saying he did not comment on who was or was not a client. Ross appeared to confirm the association, saying he had spoken with Lusk the morning before he went to the police. 

He said Lusk had been “a friend for a long time”, but he had not paid for Lusk’s advice since 2011.

Slinging mud like its 2014

Later that day, Bridges told media that Lusk’s involvement proved 2014-style Dirty Politics was back, but not from his own party.

“From Jami-Lee Ross I think that’s exactly what it is,” Bridges said, pointing the finger at Lusk’s involvement. 

“He’s clearly been working closely with him and I know, through the traps meeting with him regularly over the last wee while,” he said. 

Lusk was not the only figure from 2014 to make a surprise reappearance. The New Zealand Herald unveiled the man behind the $10,000 donation initially made in the name of the Cathedral Club as Aaron Bhatnagar.

Ross alleges this was done to disguise the identity of the donor. 

Bhatnagar was a friend of Cameron Slater, whose Whale Oil blog formed the backbone of Hager’s book.

A pivotal event in the book involves Lusk and Slater backing Ross in the 2011 Botany by-election.

Slater was critical of Bhatnagar’s campaign, although the pair had been friends. 

After the campaign, Lusk authored a blog post published in Slater’s name that criticised Bhatnagar and his campaign and his advisor Hamish Price who was labelled “a nasty, offensive and divisive self-important fool of a man that should be avoided at all costs by any candidate”.

Slater and Lusk spoke extensively about Bhatnagar behind his back. 

Messages revealed in the book show the tenor of the discussion.

“He couldn’t even win WITH daddy’s money… Rich people don’t lose selections unless they are fucking hopeless or fucking stupid. He lost to a Maori and that is even funnier,” Slater wrote to Lusk.

 And on to Rodney… 

Bridges made clear on Wednesday that Lusk’s brand of politics was not welcome in a National Party led by him.

But Ross is not the only MP to be advised by Lusk. He was also paid to advise Rodney MP Mark Mitchell, who ran against Bridges for the National leadership this year.

Mark Mitchell (left) and Simon Bridges. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

He pointedly appeared beside Bridges at a press conference on Tuesday when the latter confronted Ross’ first set of allegations.

Mitchell paid for Lusk’s services during his campaign to be selected to run in the Rodney electorate. Hager alleges Mitchell “was well-aware of what he was buying” in the form of negative campaigning. 

Apparently Mitchell was well-aware of Lusk’s campaigning. Lusk told Slater in a message “[Mitchell] is telling me that it is having a massive effect”. 

On Tuesday Ross listed Mitchell alongside fellow leadership candidates Amy Adams and Judith Collins as people who would be more honest and capable than Bridges.

Mitchell could not be contacted. 

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