John Armstrong 's Opinion

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Crisis calls on Key to use all his skills

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PM needs to get campaign back on track or next Cabinet meeting could be his last.

It is not so much death by a thousand cuts; it is death from being buried by thousands of emails.

It is going to require all of John Key's political skills to get National's election campaign back on an even keel following the forced resignation of Judith Collins and yet more damaging allegations regarding her modus operandi as a minister.

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Otherwise next Monday's Cabinet meeting - the final one before the election - could well be the last one Key chairs.

No prizes for guessing what will be top of the agenda at today's Cabinet meeting. Whatever rescue strategy has been worked out by senior ministers has to second-guess heaven knows what else that might seep out of cyberspace and expose other warts on National's body politic.

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It is unlikely that today's "fiscal announcement" by Bill English on the likelihood of future tax cuts will drown out the cacophony provoked by the weekend's allegations that Collins - along with Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater - was party to a smear campaign against the head of the Serious Fraud Office.

The latter charge has been denied by Collins.

But the allegation that connections close to former Hanover boss Mark Hotchin were working with Slater changes things a lot.

It will be a sore point among the tens of thousands of voters who lost millions of dollars in savings from the collapse of finance houses. The undermining of the SFO says to those voters that National was never on their side when it came to sheeting home responsibility for the chaos in that part of the finance industry. It brings the whole issue of "dirty politics" much closer to home.

Some mud seems bound to stick to Key. Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First sense that he is Teflon Man no more. With Collins gone, those parties are going hell for leather to persuade voters that Key is as culpable as she is for her alleged behaviour; that it is a culture that has infected the whole Government.

The one small consolation for Key is that it was assumed if National leaks votes from this episode, they are more likely to go to New Zealand First and the Conservatives than the centre-left parties. Last night's One News-Colmar Brunton poll suggests otherwise.

Key could do himself some good by spelling out exactly what kind of inquiry he intends establishing to get to the bottom of the allegations against Collins. He says he is taking advice on that. That may be normal procedure. But these are abnormal times.

A few minutes acquainting himself with the revised Inquiries Act would leave him in no doubt what he should do.

Nothing short of a full independently-chaired public inquiry with broad terms of reference and reporting to Parliament will suffice.

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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