Mercurial Opposition economic development spokesman Shane Jones says a claim he plans to throw in his lot with his "mate" Winston Peters in NZ First is no more than an attempt to destabilise the Labour Party.
Right wing political columnist Matthew Hooton yesterday claimed Mr Jones' recent comments including attacks on the Greens were increasingly putting him at odds with various groups within Labour, and were part of a strategy to have himself thrown out of the party.
That would leave him free to join NZ First where he would take over the leadership when Mr Peters stepped down and would possibly secure a ministerial portfolio in a National-NZ First Government.
But Mr Jones told the Weekend Herald: "I can't deny the fact we're mates and we're both from the North, and occasionally I'm accused of pinching his lines but I have never ever been approached by Winston or ever raised with Winston a political career with his party.
"Matthew's speculation is based on nothing that I'm either planning to do or have discussed with Winston or confirmed in any manner or form with Matthew. It's political stirring and it's had the desired effect [because] it's had everyone talking about the bloody thing all day."
Prime Minister John Key seized on the opportunity to exploit the speculation sparked by Mr Hooton.
"What you know is they're desperately unhappy little campers over there in Labour," he told reporters in Shanghai.
"They don't like us but they sure as hell don't like each other so who knows what he's going to do next?"
Mr Key said Mr Jones was "more National than he is Labour" and said that if the Northland-based MP asked to join National, he would probably say yes.
Mr Jones' response was similarly tongue in cheek.
"The Prime Minister has got Orient overload, too much Wrong Tung soup!"
He said his political future lay with Labour. "There's always a bit of white water around but beyond a sliver of doubt we have our leader in David Cunliffe, and no one can accuse me of not pulling my weight or trying to boost the brand of Labour. I think I've been tireless since Christmas in that regard."
Mr Peters left for China himself yesterday and was unavailable for comment but earlier told RadioLive there was no basis to Mr Hooton's suggestions.
"Theres's not a shred of truth in what Mr Hooton writes when Winston Peters is concerned. Whatever he writes, think the opposite.
"He has a pathological hatred of me and he spends an amount of time talking about it. It's sad really."
Mr Cunliffe would not comment other than to say Mr Hooton had been "interviewing his keyboard again".