John Key's cavalier response to the Dirty Politics inquiries risks him losing the confidence of one of his vital constituencies - the senior business community.

There is considerable angst that Key is continuing to engage with a high-profile blogger at the expense of his own reputation as Prime Minister. The texting bout episode when he responded to a communication from that particular blogger when prudence would have dictated that he should have just blanked Whale Oil is a case in point.

Key's failure to realise he would be likely to be filleted when it was inevitably leaked defies credibility.

But trying to mask the obvious backtracking was a step too far.


Key wasn't present at the Deloitte Top 200 awards at Vector Arena in Auckland. He was beamed in by video talking about the Diversity Leadership award which the Prime Minister's Office has supported through government sponsorship. But his ears should have been burning.

The event celebrates the stellar performances by New Zealand's businesses. But it is also a major networking opportunity for business power brokers.

What surprised me was that the first question on the lips of leading company chairmen and chief executives was "What's up with Key?"

Their expectation was that the Prime Minister would have learned his lessons from the Dirty Politics affair. That Key - and his Government - would have realised by how close they were to losing public confidence through the revelations in Nicky Hager's book. The reality is that if another blogger had not coughed up the email that forced Judith Collins' resignation at a critical juncture of the election campaign then Key would have faced a much tougher time.

It's a given that Key will - and should - face continued fire from new Labour leader Andrew Little and journalists over the continued detritus from the Dirty Politics affair.

There are many inconsistencies in the Prime Minister's response to the inquiry by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security into the release of information by the Security Intelligence Service to a blogger.

A simple apology on behalf of his office for the obvious black ops would have done a great deal to defuse the issue.

But Key has simply resorted to semantics and tried to hold his ground.


Collins' own career was justifiably in question over the Oravida affair where she was at the bounds of Cabinet responsibility. But the reality is that she was conveniently expendable when it came to cauterising the damage on the election.

What's not so convenient is Key's equivocating over the role a former political employee, Jason Ede, and former deputy chief of staff, Phil de Joux played in the strategy to expose former Labour Leader Phil Goff. Ede appears to have been hand in glove with Whale Oil on this.

Key needs to reflect. The Herald's Mood of the Boardroom Election survey of CEOs found that 62 per cent felt "Brand Key" had been damaged by the Nicky Hager revelations, 66 per cent believed it exposed an unhealthy relationship between politicians and bloggers and 76 per cent of those surveyed raised issues of political probity concerning Judith Collins.

They wanted him to learn the lessons from the Dirty Politics scandal.

Move more quickly on Cabinet ministers or MPs who had "integrity issues"; select fewer error-prone ministers and "stop mucking about with bloggers and get on with leading New Zealand to a better future".

Even before the Prime Minister pushed Collins to resign her Justice portfolio, chief executives were saying she should be demoted as a liability. Key doesn't appear to have learned that lesson.


He needs to reflect whether his real support lies in the blogosphere or among New Zealand at large, including the business elite.