Key Points:

I peaked too early when I awarded John Key a higher trust score after Michael Cullen's swipe about the National leader's former career with troubled American bank Merrill Lynch. It looks as if trust will be a tennis game in this election campaign - batted from one side to another.

Was Key dreaming to think Labour would not dig up the truth about his shares in Tranz Rail, that instead of the "50,000 max" he or his family trust held, it was, in fact, 100,000?

There is no evidence of insider trading, and Key loses in the long run (not just financially), but he did ask parliamentary questions about the Government's rumoured buy-back of the rail network, and filed Official Information Act requests (even complaining to the Ombudsman when they weren't answered) when he knew the relevance of his representative buying and selling shares in that same company.

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Key says it was a "genuine mistake" and the misdemeanour's hardly a federal case, but he stands accused of lying to the media, ergo the people of New Zealand.

So where are the fulminations from the Act Party? If time hadn't expired for lodging complaints, would Gordon Copeland (for it was actually his complaint on which Peters was censured) and Hide have championed an investigation into Key?

And if, hypothetically speaking, this went before a privileges committee, would Peters and Hide have categorically ruled out working with the National Party after the election?

I doubt it, so what's the difference apart from the obvious politicisation?

Key, unlike Peters, apologised, then grovelled to the media when he'd been caught out. His discomfort on television was heart-rending, I must admit, but he does want to be Prime Minister. You can't have it both ways.

In politics it's not the reality, but the perception, that matters. Key appeared inexperienced and easily pushed around by the fourth estate.

Political reporters are rats in the corridors of power, sniffing out the weak and gnawing for days on flailing victims. This was a moment for Key to stop appeasing and come out punching, behaviour which should come naturally to a former risk-taking trader.

Why should the press gallery dictate the terms of MPs' behaviour, castigating those they deem "arrogant" and "haughty", and fawning, like Mark Sainsbury on Tuesday night with Key, over those who capitulate?

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So is Key being spun by his minder committee, the way all recent National leaders have been, with disastrous results?

More puzzling than Helen Clark's refusal to sack Peters is Key's rush to judgment, ruling out working with NZ First before the committee's report was tabled.

Key's no crystal-ball gazer; he can't know for sure NZ First won't be back in November. Contrast this with the National Party campaigning for convicted paedophile Peter Ellis' innocence when he'd been found guilty by every court in the land.

I suspect the hand of Murray McCully at work.

Herald

columnist Fran O'Sullivan referred to this inner-circle member as "National's long-time Svengali". Harsh words from this veteran MP watcher - the dictionary definition is "a person who exerts total mental control over another, usually for evil ends" - but she knows him better than I do.

You could call him the "eminence grise", except McCully's more an "eminence brun", but maybe, like me, his hair colour's coached by a bottle.

Several years ago a National insider who quit the leader's office told me if the party ever dies, trace the DNA back to McCully.

"He's a trench fighter, and all his decisions are made according to what's good for him. He was behind Jenny [Shipley] rolling Jim [Bolger], then he pushed Jenny over."

Last year Nicky Hager's

The Hollow Men

demonstrated there would be little love lost between Bill English and McCully after English was dumped for Brash. So why do National leaders keep this man so close? Well, better inside the tent than out, the devil you know, and all that.

A current National staffer says he overheard MPs discussing what they'd do about Peters if he held the balance of power after the election, and McCully expostulated; "The f***** wants my portfolio."

So was the peremptory dismissal of NZ First - before the committee heard all the evidence - all about principle, or is it just about a foreign affairs portfolio?

I don't know the answer to that, but I reckon the score for trust between the two old parties right now is about 15 all.