Don Brash's former chief of staff reckons the National leader's latest gaffe is likely to cost him the leadership, saying he was already on borrowed time.
Richard Long, who was Dr Brash's chief of staff until the end of last year, last night told TV One's Close Up that Dr Brash's decision to try to injunct the Nicky Hager book The Hollow Men was a serious mistake, which would not be easily forgiven by his caucus.
It had given the book a "huge swag of publicity" and would now become a best-seller, "10 times larger than if he hadn't done that".
National was ahead in the polls and "you never roll a leader while National is ahead in the polls."
But the Herald poll of Aucklanders published yesterday showing John Key only 1.4 points behind Dr Brash in the preferred Prime Minister stakes "gives them the excuse they need, really", said Mr Long.
"I would still let this thing roll out, the aftermath of this [the book's revelations]. I would wait until all that comes out and do it [challenge Dr Brash's leadership] after Christmas.
"I think he was on borrowed time anyway because of previous gaffes and this one is just going to look so bad.
He's done so much damage in terms of promoting a book, they're not really going to forgive him for it easily."
The details of the book, promising to expose deception and lies at top levels of the National Party, may be unveiled as early as today.
Dr Brash - under renewed attacks over his leadership in the House yesterday despite his absence - spent part of the day talking to lawyers.
He was trying to decide how best to extricate himself from the injunction he asked the High Court to serve on "John and Jane Doe" last week, preventing the distribution or possession of any emails which had been "stolen" from him.
It is believed he was considering two options.
The first involved waiving the injunction in relation to the emails included in the book only - essentially accepting the horse had bolted - but maintaining it relation to any other "stolen" emails.
Dr Brash is understood to consider this a partial face-saver - but it may ironically result in a delay in making the book's details public.
This is because the Herald and TV3 are appealing against the injunction and must be consulted on any changes to its terms.
Neither is likely to support a blanket ban on the use of all other emails belonging to Dr Brash - which could have long-term ramifications - so could yet delay the finalising of any changes to the injunction.
The second option, simply asking the court to drop the entire injunction, appears more likely.
Dr Brash said he wanted Hager's claims "exposed to daylight" and was confident the book could be released "even in the next few days".
The Herald understands he hopes to have the restrictions on the book lifted today - in order to prevent the saga dragging out.
Hager welcomed Dr Brash's plans yesterday and said he planned to distribute the books to media organisations as soon as restrictions were lifted.
Labour MPs seized on the hiatus to accuse National of an attempted cover-up.
Phil Goff said "any credibility that Dr Brash had left must surely have been destroyed ... I can never recall any political leader taking out a court injunction to stop his own actions and views on public issues from being published.
"There's only two things keeping Don Brash in his seat today. One is the mutual distrust and hatred between the pretenders who would want his job ... the second thing of course is the indecisiveness of John Key."
National MPs ganged up to defend their leader and their party, with Bill English labelling Hager "a left-wing stirrer" who "joins the dots and comes up with a vast right-wing conspiracy".
National deputy leader Gerry Brownlee labelled Hager "a peace activist trying to make his peace with Helen Clark".
"This man has a long history of all sorts of alarmist publications. Nicky Hager is simply a man who has very low credibility. He's a man who recently told New Zealand the SIS was delving through the activities of the Maori Party.
"This is the man who wrote Seeds of Distrust in which he attacked Helen Clark." She had rubbished that book's claims and other claims, yet Labour was now trying to say Hager was credible, Mr Brownlee said.
Hager said he expected this type of personal attack, but was confident the book would speak for itself.
- additional reporting Mike Houlahan