Cabinet ministers obviously are enjoying the final days of their summer break while their desks back in Wellington are piled high with the problems of a country beset with raging inflation, labour shortages and a pandemic that refuses to go away.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has had her own set of issues to ponder, not least a reshuffle of Cabinet and, along with her deputy Grant Robertson, the challenge of shaping the political agenda for a general election, possibly in October but more likely in November.
This, of course, is going to be a very different election from that in 2020, when the nation was still afflicted by the trauma of Covid and Ardern had acquired the aura of saviour. NZ had not been afflicted with anything like Covid since the Great Flu of 1918.
But if the Ardern government captured the gratitude of NZers at the height of the pandemic, it seemed to forfeit it just as rapidly. And, as a year of burgeoning inflation ended, political pundits were predicting the Ardern government was heading towards an election with the word “DEFEAT” written in capital letters.
Sniffing the political breeze during the summer break, Ardern and Robertson may think otherwise, even if the public polls indicated support for Labour had drifted to levels not seen for some years.
So, get rid of the driftwood, bring in some fresh thinking and Labour can do battle again.
Ardern and Robertson are experienced enough to know MMP elections are generally very close run. They may sense, too, that the Leader of the Opposition, Christopher Luxon, is vulnerable. He doesn’t have the political “smarts” of previous National leaders like John Key.
Another encouraging factor for Labour is the swing across the Tasman with the triumph of Anthony Albanese in the Federal elections and Daniel Andrews in Victoria (particularly notable because that came after his harsh rules in the Covid pandemic).
So there is all to play for, in the election this year.
Simon Wilson, in the NZ Herald, offers an insight into the coming election which is worrying but can be questioned. He says we face a choice between what could be the most progressive government in our lifetimes, or the most reactionary.
“To put that another way, the best government yet, or the worst. You can decide which is which. This is new. It’s not because of the two major parties, both of which seem uncertain about how to proceed. It’s because, confounding expectations, both the Greens and Act have spent the past five years growing stronger.
“While National and Labour have both ridden an at-times wild roller coaster, these two have held firm. Their values seem relatively clear, their leadership is experienced and competent and their poll support is up.
“Unlike Te Pāti Māori, which has also held firm, the Greens and Act are both keen to go into Government. They’re ready to rumble.
“Policy platforms have not yet been announced. But the Greens are likely to renew their call for higher taxes on the wealthiest, more support for the poorest and a raft of better, faster actions on climate and the environment.
“My guess: The party will also stand clearly with nurses, teachers and others in the health and education sectors who still struggle to have their demands over pay and conditions taken seriously enough.
“In many respects, the Greens advocate the things Labour itself said it would do, in 2017 and 2020, but has not delivered as substantially as expected.
“As for Act, it will want more than lower taxes, fewer regulations and an extremely punitive approach to crime and justice. Its targets will likely be climate action, a higher-wage economy and wrap-around social services for the traumatised and vulnerable. And smaller public-sector budgets. This will not help nurses. Act has been consistent in most of this since it was founded by Roger Douglas and Derek Quigley in 1994, but has never had the strength in government to make it happen. That could finally be about to change.”
Point of Order will be watching opinion polls closely for indications of how party support is trending.