Key dodges sticky issue with offhand denials
There comes a point when a politician's over-reliance on plausible deniability becomes simply implausible.
John Key is well past that point with his absolute refusal to accept accountability for the allegations made in Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics book.
He moved into the farcical yesterday, on many counts. The first was his apparent ignorance that spin doctor Jason Ede still roams the corridors of Parliament, using a staff swipecard.
He claims not to know what Ede now does for the campaign team. And in a cute attempt to distance himself from the tainted black ops man, he rubbished Hager's claims that he worked "two doors" down from the Prime Minister.
It is well known that Ede worked for years in the Prime Minister's Beehive offices. Until now Key has never denied this, in the face of many questions about his links to the WhaleOil blog.
The second was his casual attempt to play down his interactions with WhaleOil's Cameron Slater. Despite claims Hager has made up much of his book, it turns out Key did text message and call Slater after a public outcry about his nasty attack on the mother of a Pike River victim.
He says it was about a different matter, however he did mention that he recognised the woman from a photograph. He deployed a classic Key trick of understatement.
Key's outrage about hacking also rang hollow - either the emails were stolen, or Hager made up the conversations. He cannot argue it both ways.
But whatever the backdrop of claim and counterclaim, it was business as usual for Key yesterday.
On the campaign trail, he appeared entirely unconcerned about the allegations hanging over his inner circle. He was undoubtedly buoyed by the results of a snap television poll, which shows the issue is not getting much cut-through with voters.
Key was mobbed on a visit to a Papatoetoe Sikh temple, with community leaders keen to have his ear. No-one mentioned the book. Dozens of supporters clamoured to have their photo taken.
Missing in action was Ethnic Affairs Minister Judith Collins. Key downplayed this - she was never meant to be part of the visit. However, her absence looked like another attempt to put distance between the leader and her behaviour.
The rattled Key of a few days ago was gone. Both he and his spin doctors are certain the tide is turning on Hager, their relentless attacks on his credibility yielding fruit.
Key was back responding to reporters' questions with the patient tone designed to suggest what a reasonable guy he is.
The answers, however, remain unconvincing.
The Dominion Post