Distraction antics wearing thin

MATHEW GROCOTT - DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF
Last updated 12:00 19/08/2014

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Any hope the prime minister had that the fallout from Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics would blow over quickly must now be dashed.

John Key has managed to successfully weather all manner of controversy during his six years as PM without much mud sticking to him.

His personal popularity remained high and National was soaring in the polls.

But Hager's book, and Key's repeated obfuscation when taking questions on the subject, is starting to wear thin with voters. It's already worn out the patience of most media.

The tipping point may well have been yesterday's interview on Morning Report with Key. The prime minister repeatedly refused to answer a question on whether he condoned one of the actions Justice Minister Judith Collins is accused of in the book.

Collins, for her part, has already acknowledged the accusation, that she leaked the name of a Ministry of Housing staffer to Whaleoil's Cameron Slater. Slater went on to vilify the man for leaking documents to Labour, claims that were unfounded.

Yet the prime minister, repeatedly, batted away a direct question from Guyon Espiner with the line that Hager's book was a smear campaign.

Key has still, apparently, not read the book and told media he might get around to it after the election.

Yet he stands by Collins and his former adviser Jason Ede, who is alleged to have co-ordinated attacks on National's opponents with Slater from an office two doors down from Key.

Key's continual denial of any knowledge of what Ede was up to is hard to fathom. Hager's book would be a good starting point as a reference, or he could ask Ede himself.

The tone is reminiscent of when Key continued to back former ACT leader John Banks over claims he falsified a campaign donation declaration.

Key said repeatedly he did not need to read the police report into the matter as he trusted Banks' word. Banks, of course, ended up being convicted.

It's as if Key has been taking political advice from the fictional president Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Simpsons Movie who told an adviser "I was elected to lead, not to read".

Perhaps it's time the prime minister started to read and lead and look into what Collins and people in his office have been up to.

The only action from here for Key may well be for him to reprimand Collins, sack Ede and further distance himself from Slater.

The current crop of lines, that Hager's book is "a smear job", the emails are "one side of the story" and that "the Left do it too" are not going to cut it any longer.

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- Manawatu Standard

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