The decision to go to police over the cup of tea taping was made by Prime Minister John Key, says a National Party insider.

Matthew Hooton believes Key made the decision as a matter of principle. He then relied on campaign manager Steven Joyce and chief of staff Wayne Eagleson to put a structure around his impulse.

A plan emerged to poll the public to find if they supported the Prime Minister and to then act on the research by walking out on a media conference. Hooton says the structure supported Key's visceral reaction to discovering the existence of the recording.

"The press gallery often forgets that the Prime Minister is going to be much closer to the public and public attitudes - especially this Prime Minister. John Key meets conservatively 1000 New Zealanders every week. All the pundits were wrong. He got it right and everyone else got it wrong."

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But Otago University political scientist Dr Bryce Edwards says the impact is yet to hit Key. "Their whole handling of it has been reprehensible and wrong," says Edwards.

Key should have given permission to release the recording almost immediately, quashing the issue, says Edwards. Instead, the first response was a "nuclear" press release from Joyce. He says the release sent Key down the "wrong track" and they had continued on that course since. Now, Key faces another week of Teagate coverage as freelance cameraman Bradley Ambrose goes to court to clear his name.

Edwards says the absence from the campaign trail of chief press secretary Kevin Taylor has deprived Key of an adviser who would avoid "radical" steps.

Key's inner circle of advisers is headed by Joyce, who led National's campaign in 2005 and 2008. The National Party's campaign manager is Jo de Joux.

She had a strong role in the Mana byelection campaign last year, which gave rising National star Hekia Parata the chance to show her potential.

The links between the party machine and the Prime Minister's inner sanctum are close. De Joux's husband Phil is Key's deputy chief of staff. His immediate boss is chief of staff Eagleson, who caused a stir last year when it emerged he was partying in Las Vegas with lobbyists. He has been a strategically important manager for Key.

Another central figure has been less directly involved this time - Kevin Taylor has remained in the Beehive.

His nickname among some senior Caucus members - "Captain Panic Pants" - reflects Taylor's terse nature.

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Another factor in the way things have played out is that Murray McCully, one of the smartest in the party, has been overseas at Apec.