Judith Collins looking isolated
Justice Minister Judith Collins is looking increasingly isolated after John Key said she had been ''unwise'' and his deputy Bill English distanced himself from her style of politics.
But despite giving Collins a final warning in March, Key yesterday said she would keep her job, claiming she was the victim of a ''highly orchestrated, Left-wing smear campaign''.
Collins' woes and the fallout from Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics again dominated the campaign yesterday but National is hoping to move the debate on to its positive election message today with the release of its first campaign advertisement.
It features a slick National rowing eight and compares it with a disorganised boat full of Labour and its support parties rowing in different directions.
Opposition MPs were yesterday calling for Key to sack Collins, who has admitted passing details of Internal Affairs official Simon Pleasants to Cameron Slater.
She thought Pleasants was responsible for leaking information to Labour about Finance Minister Bill English's taxpayer-funded accommodation allowance in 2009.
Slater, who blogs as Whaleoil, identified Pleasants and posted remarks about him leading to abusive posts and death threats against Pleasants.
Pleasants has always denied leaking the information about English.
Speaking after the release of the pre-election economic and fiscal update, English said it was not his style to leak to Slater and he wouldn't do it.
''It's not a style I like,'' English said. ''I don't participate in it. I wouldn't do it - it's not my style of politics, it's certainly not John Key's style.''
Key said passing private information, including Pleasants' phone numbers, was ''unwise, it's unwise for a minister''.
The accusations against Collins were ''highly contested,'' because she believed Pleasants' name was already known to Slater.
''Now look there are some details there which I think it is unwise for a minister to pass on but in the end it doesn't change the basic point which is she is very strongly of the view and I've got no way of disproving that, I accept her at her word that she didn't leak the name.''
He confirmed she was still on her ''last chance'' after she failed to fully disclose to him her contact with exporter Oravida during a trip to China - a firm her husband is a director of.
''She's on her last chance, after what happened last time, but at the end of the day, she's subject to a Left-wing, smear campaign.''
Key rejected suggestions she was now on her ''last, last'' warning.
English said he was not seeking revenge for the 2009 revelations, which saw him back down on claims for costs on his Wellington house.
He took responsibility for it and it had been an issue of judgment not illegality.
He said he did not think the furore over Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics had overshadowed the Government's message because people cared more about the economy than ''some argument in the blogosphere''.
But Labour leader David Cunliffe said English's comments indicated a rift within the National caucus.
Speaking to media at the gates of Turangawaewae Marae, he said there was a ''strong difference of view at the most senior levels of the National Party''.