Key's veneer of good humour wears thin

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 19/08/2014

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OPINION: John Key's election campaign has gone to hell in the proverbial handbasket.

And officially it's only day one.

Today was the day Key and his staff were gearing up for the daily campaign schedule to get under way - factory visits, shopping malls and a policy announcement a day to keep up the interest of the travelling media pack ahead of this weekend's campaign launch.

So much for the script. Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics and the threatened drip-feed over the next five weeks of potentially thousands of emails, hacked from blogger Cameron Slater, has seized control of the agenda.

Standing on the side of a motorway in Lower Hutt yesterday, the veneer of good humour was wafer thin as Key was swamped by questions about the extent of his Government's involvement with Slater, whose stock in trade - in Slater's own words - is being nasty.

There may have been holes in Key's rebuttal of some of Hager's claims, but Key is no longer talking to the media and what he sees as their endless "forensic" examination of the detail of Hager's book - his pitch is to the voters who he hopes have already moved on.

But National knows some of the mud will stick - which is why Key is sparing no breath reminding voters about Labour's efforts over the years to sandbag him, including the infamous H-bomb, the false trail pursued by Labour in an attempt to link Key to dodgy behaviour, which instead blew up in Helen Clark's face on the campaign trail.

Clark was in a shopping mall when she got the news that the story was about to break about former Labour Party president Mike Williams being caught out trying to dig up dirt on Key.

The only H bomb that day was the one that dropped on Clark and her government from a great height. The Hager book has exploded on Key and his government with similar force. It may not matter that National cannot be directly linked with most of the more sordid revelations, the sum of which add up to a view of politics as some form of extreme sport, where reputations are made to be smeared and blogs like Slater's to be feared, including by any who cross him.

That Key is linked to such a blog, either through his office or his own contacts with Slater, will turn off some voters. The difference is that the tide was going out on Clark in 2008, while the tide up till now during this campaign had been running in National's favour.

But Key will have to draw on his huge stores of political capital to keep it that way.

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