Labour will be unsettled by the polling showing the National Party ahead in the popular vote, which has triggered a change in Government strategy as messaging increasingly puts the Opposition in its sights.
At the same time, Christopher Luxon will be pleased with his first few months as Opposition Leader, with National now seen as more capable of managing the cost of living and economic issues that are front of mind for voters.
In some ways the Government did not help itself. Its focus on COVID and the vaccine rollout made it slow to react to concerns about the cost of living and gave National’s new leader space to say and do as he pleased.
That luxury is now gone, with the Government quick to pounce when National’s Leader shows his relative inexperience with offhand commitments to remove all public transport subsidies and scrap a public holiday, or gets caught up in a distracting debate on the name of Matariki.
The sight of Labour posting attack ads on social media and issuing critical media statements on Party letterhead shows how seriously it’s taking the rising threat, largely because National’s poor performance in polls over the past two years has not been threatening enough to warrant it.
But record inflation figures and an increasingly pessimistic public sentiment mean there is now a clear path for National to capitalise on its newly regained position as the trusted economic manager heading into the 2023 election. With this increased political fortune comes increased scrutiny.
With the Government double checking the numbers and running the ruler over every announcement, National won’t be able to get away with making policy decisions on the fly.
Having the Government call out a few unforced errors at this stage of the election cycle won’t cause lasting damage to National’s prospects when there are larger issues at hand, unless these errors become a habit.
However, like the recent polls being a wakeup call for Labour, this is a timely reminder for Mr Luxon and National to not be complacent.
The Government wants a third term and will fight for it.