Another senior po' />

First Bill English, then Chris Carter and now Rodney Hide. Parliament's unique strain of swine flu has claimed another victim.

Another senior politician has been caught with his trotters planted firmly in the trough - the difference being that Hide's affliction has been severely compounded by a simultaneous outbreak of foot-in-mouth disease.

Whether or not the remark was meant for public consumption, Hide's labelling of John Key as a "do-nothing" prime minister was a big mistake.

The description - patently absurd - was always going to rebound on Hide given that Key's soaring popularity has made him virtually untouchable.

Hide exhibited Act's worst mannerism - its superiority complex which, in fact, masks a deeper insecurity surrounding its failure to get the kind of vote at elections that other niche parties like the Greens have.

Hide's belittling of Key was in stark contrast to Key's defence of Hide only days earlier - a defence made despite Hide circumventing the Prime Minister's edict that ministers wanting their partners to accompany them when they go globe-trotting pay their own way.

While playing down Hide's jibe, Key, no doubt, will have found Hide's real opinion of him instructive in their future dealings.

For his part, Hide succeeded in only drawing more unwanted attention to the charges of hypocrisy that he, like English, has had to answer.

In English's case, the inconsistency was his dubious claim of entitlement to a living-outside-his-electorate allowance while delivering sermons on frugality as Minister of Finance.

Hide was sprung taking his girlfriend on a global jaunt on the taxpayer, a revelation doubly damaging on subsequent discovery that the trip just happened to coincide with her brother's wedding in Britain.

It would have been difficult for Hide to come up with a more flagrant violation of his self-ascribed image as Parliament's resident perkbuster and his party's associated promises about using public money sparingly and wisely.

It is difficult to explain why both English and Hide could not see the contradictions, given the pair are not only two of Parliament's brightest, they have been around long enough to know what is sustainable politically and what isn't.

English's behaviour is easier to explain. The boarding school atmosphere of Parliament rewards MPs with more perks the higher they get up the pecking order. A mindset develops which sees the perks as entitlements to be claimed as of right - a mindset reinforced by a reluctance on the part of compliant officials to say "no" to their masters.

English may have broken fresh ground in seeking permission for the Crown to rent his family home so he could live in it while the taxpayer effectively paid the mortgage. But he was not doing anything illegal. He was merely being innovative.

English's rort was in part exposed because of the decision by Key and the Speaker, Lockwood Smith, to shine the torch on previously undisclosed spending by individual MPs on travel and accommodation. Unable to tough things out, English finally caved into public pressure and opted to take nothing.

Hide is a far more complex case. Just why he thought his travel bill would go unnoticed is a conundrum of Mary Celeste proportions.

Equally puzzling was Hide's Marie Antoinette-like "let them eat cake" response to the brouhaha, saying he would do the same again. It is not as though he wasn't warned of the consequences. Attempts to dissuade him taking his partner on the trip were made by the Prime Minister's office, such was the concern about how bad it would all look.

Maybe Hide, who has long given up his perk-busting crusade, simply morphed from gamekeeper to poacher. Maybe it was the impact of a new relationship. Maybe, it was inflated ego. A pointer to the latter was Hide's apology for bagging the Prime Minister, which was addressed to Key and "my Cabinet colleagues".

Hide is not a Cabinet minister. He is a minister outside the Cabinet. Drawing such a distinction might sound academic, even trivial. But in terms of the parliamentary pecking order, the difference between being inside or outside the Cabinet is the difference between being an All Black and a provincial rugby player.

Hide may sit on Cabinet committees. He may take part in Cabinet discussions relating to his portfolios. But he is not a Cabinet minister.

The terms of Act's confidence and supply agreement with National allocates two ministerial positions outside the Cabinet to Hide's party.

The arrangement - similar to the one Winston Peters had with Helen Clark - gives the minor partner more freedom to speak its mind when in disagreement with the major partner than would be the case were Act to have Cabinet representation.

Acutely conscious of how the Alliance, United Future and NZ First were effectively destroyed by being party to Government and very much intent on preserving Act's identity and independence, Hide has been testing the limits of that freedom.

There is a fine line, however, between raising one's profile and the big-noting evident in Hide's declaring that Key "doesn't do anything" yet is highly popular, while Act "did everything and we are hated".

It sounded like sour grapes. It also sounded like a cry of despair from what Hide has previously described as the "death zone" of politics.

But Hide can hardly blame National for Act now registering less than 1 per cent in the polls. Key has simply rolled with Act's punches and resisted calls to discipline Hide, something which may anyway be impossible given that Hide is from another political party.

All this may have emboldened Hide into thinking he, too, was untouchable and exempt from the law of gravity. The end result, however, is that a vast gulf has opened up between Act's supposed principles and its actual practice.

Hide's thumbing his nose at his perkbuster past has cut away the moral high ground from which Act loves to campaign.

Act once described itself as the party of "values, not politics". At last year's election, it was the party with "the guts to do what's right". Such slogans no longer hold.

Of particular note, Act's 20-point action plan talked of cutting the Cabinet from 20 to 12 ministers so there would be "fewer baubles of office".

A key element of Act's core ideology - strict control of the public purse - has been nuked by no lesser figure than the party's leader. Act's brand has been tarnished accordingly.

It was not just the Prime Minister who was owed an apology from Hide this week. His fellow Act MPs could be excused for thinking their leader had gone troppo. Hide should beg for forgiveness from them and the long-suffering party activists who have worked tirelessly through thick and thin to ensure Act retains a foothold in Parliament.

For Hide's week from hell means there will be a lot more thin than thick for Act for quite a while to come.