Hager's book continues to haunt

John Key
John Key
Prime Minister John Key must be hoping when he campaigns in Auckland today the horrors of the past 12 days have been put behind him and the National Party.

Answering questions after launching the party's election campaign in Manukau's Vodafone Events Centre yesterday, Mr Key refused to discuss the future of Justice Minister Judith Collins, telling reporters ''we have moved on from that''.

Unfortunately for Mr Key, many people have not moved on from the allegations contained in investigative journalist Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics, in which it was alleged Ms Collins expedited official information requests for right-wing blogger Cameron Slater.

It seems unlikely media trailing after the prime minister will stop asking questions about Ms Collins and other allegations contained in the book, including those involving National Party staff member Jason Ede, before the September 20 election.

Mr Key is conducting a campaign by photo opportunities which involves one 15-minute to 20-minute media stand-up a day.

The one time slot gives him and his staff no time to spin the message into policy.

The first debate between Mr Key and Labour leader David Cunliffe is scheduled at 7pm on Thursday on TV One.

Both leaders need to be completely focused on the debate.

Mr Key destroyed former prime minister Helen Clark in 2008 and got the best of former Labour leader Phil Goff with one devastating line ''show us the money'' during a 2011 debate.

With National and Mr Key showing some slippage in support in a recent poll, both men know they need to be at their best on Thursday as they present to voters.

Labour support continued to slide in a poll last week, despite the furore about Mr Hager's book.

However, Mr Cunliffe showed an improvement in the poll for preferred prime minister and he will be seeking to improve again on Thursday.

Both men have refused to take part in a debate with small parties, attracting some criticism but showing they intend to be the ones deciding the make-up of the next government.

Mr Key warned supporters yesterday there was still a chance, despite being low in the polls, Labour could cobble together a government with the Greens, Internet Mana and others because that was how the maths might work.

With 26 days to go to the election, Messrs Key and Cunliffe both need to start the week strongly and continue building momentum towards the election.