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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: PM resolves to harpoon 'Whalegate'

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Prime Minister John Key is obviously hoping the media will get bored and - like National - move on to other things, writes John Armstrong. Photo / Greg Bowker
Prime Minister John Key is obviously hoping the media will get bored and - like National - move on to other things, writes John Armstrong. Photo / Greg Bowker

Warming up the audience before the appearance of John Key at National's official campaign launch yesterday, Bill English heaped praise upon praise on the Prime Minister.

He made special mention of the "patience, courtesy and good humour" Key had displayed despite persistent questions about Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics book and what he was going to do about it.

It seems no one told English that Key's stratagem was about to go from one extreme to the other.

Having failed to talk Hager into submission, Key has suddenly gone silent. At his post-launch press conference, he simply refused to answer questions on the subject. The media had had a "good chew" and "we have moved on from there".

Some very pertinent questions remain unanswered, however, namely why Key has not sacked Judith Collins from the Justice portfolio and why she has not apologised to the public servant who received death threats after she passed private information to Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater.

The switch in tactics is understandable, if not defendable. Last week was the week from hell for the Prime Minister. He is in no mood for a repeat.

Yesterday was the opportunity to make a fresh start and get National's campaign on track. Key preferred to "focus on the issues that matter" - fast becoming the catchphrase of this election. That included housing, with Key tackling one of National's weak points by promising more assistance to first-home buyers if they cash up their KiwiSaver contributions.

By erecting a brick wall to a particular line of questions, Key is obviously hoping the media will get bored and - like National - move on to other things.

Although they would never say it, other parties would not be too worried if that was to happen.

Whalegate (for want of a better name) has probably inflicted as much damage on National as it is likely to do. Whether the story stays alive hangs on whether there are further emails not referred to in Hager's book which are equally as incendiary - and whether the holder of those emails decides to release them.

If there is more to come, Key might find that silence is not golden.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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