All stops out to protect 'brand Key'

A new poll reveals how much National has to lose if it is tainted by Nicky Hager's dirty tricks allegations, with its brand clearly resting on voter perceptions of John Key.

The poll explains why National has gone so heavily on attack against Hager and his claims senior people in the Key administration aided and abetted a Right-wing blog best known for digging dirt on its Left-wing opponents.

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Asked to describe National and Labour in one word, many voters had strong views. The word "good" cropped up most often in relation to National, though there was also a strong feeling it was arrogant. Other words most often used to describe National included OK, competent, stable, progressive, positive and greedy.

Among undecided voters, however, the word used most often about National was arrogant - and with the dirt flying on all sides, that perception could be hardened by Hager's book Dirty Politics.

The latest poll shows 15 per cent of voters still haven't made up their mind and could prove crucial.

Five weeks out from the election, the campaign has turned toxic, with National turning on Hager and labelling him part of a Left-wing smear campaign.

Meanwhile, Internet-Mana Party founder Kim Dotcom issued a strongly worded denial that he was behind thousands of emails being hacked from the computer of WhaleOil blogger Cameron Slater, who is at the centre of Hager's dirty tricks claim.

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In another twist, two National MPs said yesterday they had been the victims of break-ins. Justice Minister Judith Collins - revealed as a source of Slater's in Hager's book - said her husband's laptop was targeted in a recent break-in. A lock on the cabinet containing his laptop was smashed, she said.

Nothing, including cash left in the office by staff, was taken.

A complaint was laid with police. Collins said: "I'm not aware of a hacking attempt. [It's] just very strange."

Another National MP, Mark Mitchell, said his office was broken into last September and October, and a laptop and phones were stolen. He said his email account was hacked at the same time.

Yesterday Slater published texts from Dotcom to his former bodyguard, with one saying: "We have been collecting evidence and witnesses for 3 months. I hired professionals to get me information".

Dotcom said the texts were related to a defamation case.

Key kept up his attack on Hager yesterday and distanced himself from the former staffer Jason Ede, who acted as a conduit between his office and Slater.

Among Hager's claims is one that Ede and Slater snooped around Labour Party websites after finding a way to enter them.

Key said Ede no longer worked for him. "All I know is he works for the National Party now."

Yet an email from Key's chief press secretary last October confirmed Ede was at that stage "a senior adviser in the National Leader's Office".

National has based its entire campaign around Key, who is seen as its most potent weapon. But the Hager book linking Key's office to allegations about Labour Party computers being snooped on and revelations about the extent to which Key's office supplied Slater with information could undermine that.

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The Dominion Post