The pressure is on National. Despite polling well above any other party it's a Government increasingly under siege, with issues on a number of fronts that threaten its current dominance and re-election.
Opinion polling out today suggests that the Government is on a knife edge - the next election could go either way.
It can't afford further bad news and to lose any more support. For the latest poll information and very useful analysis, see Tracy Watkins' Trend good for Labour but there's a way to go. See also National no longer a sure winner - poll, and Vernon Small's Minor parties hold sway in dead heat.
The SkyCity report is the latest vulnerability for National. If John Key still thinks the Audit Office has given him a 'total vindication' in the report, he really needs to read John Armstrong's blistering critique: Banana republic stuff - but minus the bananas.
The Audit Office itself is criticised by Gordon Campbell for ignoring political realities in pointing the finger at officials: 'Get real, Audit Office. In the current public service climate, officials would have to be either very brave or foolhardy to fly in the face of the clear signals they were getting from the Beehive heavyweights, and they would also need to have alternative job options' - see: On the Audit Office report on the SkyCity deal.
Nonetheless, Key appears determined to push the deal through quickly - see Dan Satherley's Key rejects criticism of Sky City deal, and Adam Bennett and David Fisher's Select treatment for SkyCity won't stop deal.
There is still more to come on the SkyCity issue - a debate about the more contentious trade-off of 'pokies for convention centre' which will require special legislation - see the Herald's editorial, Social cost of casino deal left for public to judge.
National is particularly vulnerable in Christchurch at the moment. As John Armstrong explains in a must-read column, the decision to backdown on some of the school closures is driven by 'the need to buttress National's hold on the city' - see: Partial backdown shows National has eye on election.
So was the U-turn a political success? Immediately after the announcement, University of Canterbury political scientist Bronwyn Hayward (@BMHayward) tweeted that she was so happy with the Government's announcement she could hug Hekia Parata. Similarly, the Press editorial on the matter proclaimed, 'The Government should be congratulated for at last properly consulting people about the plan and for taking heed of concerns' - see: Deliver on promise.
Yet National is still receiving a lot of bad publicity over the school closures. And Hekia Parata continues to be 'the minister the public most love to hate' - see for example: 71pc want Parata gone - survey. Much of the media has been baying for her to give an apology for the errors committed by herself, her Ministry and Novopay - see Tova O'Brien's Sorry seems to be the hardest word.
The Government is onto a popular winner with its announcement to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes (at some stage in the future, depending on what happens in Australia). Most parties have signed up for it in Parliament - with only Act and NZ First dissenting - see Newswire's Plain packaging 'a windfall for lawyers' - Peters. There's strong support in the blogosphere too - see for example, No Right Turn: A good move, and David Farrar's The plain packaging decision. But much of the credit is going, not to National, but to the Maori Party - see Patrick Gower's Turia has absolutely smashed Big Tobacco.
The asset sale issue is probably the one that National is most vulnerable on. Already this week National's deadline for a court decision has passed - see TV3's Court asserts authority on asset sales. And Matthew Hooton speculates on the reasoning behind a possible negative judgement for the Government - see: World exclusive: Top court's draft water judgment. The options for the Government if the decision goes against them are stark. Negotiations with iwi, further delays or cancelling the sales will all be politically humiliating. Legislating away the problem may be popular with National's voter base but such a broken promise would explode the coalition deal with the Maori Party at a time when National is running low on little helpers in Parliament. An early election could be tempting - particularly if National can turn the issue into a vote on Treaty rights. An election that became a vote on the asset sales themselves would likely be suicidal.
Of course, there are some indicators that National is doing quite well at the moment. A recent One News poll put the party on 49%, leading political editor Corin Dann to put forward an explanation for why the Government is doing so well: What a difference a summer can make.
But if National is vulnerable and under pressure, then what of the state of the opposition? Labour is obviously pushing very hard on the SkyCity issue. With deliberate thought to his wording, Labour leader David Shearer has proclaimed: 'This has had John Key's fingerprints all over it and it was a shonky deal and John Key is donkey-deep in it'. On Twitter, David Fisher (@DFisherJourno) elaborated on the unusual language: 'I'm told Labour's use of "donkey deep" is part of a subliminal "shonky" "donkey" "John Key" alliteration thing. Is that easier than policy?'
Labour also has its vulnerabilities at the moment. They start at the top - with Shearer, and blogger Pete George reports on his latest miscommunication in: Shearer: absolutely there's room for MPs with homophobic views in Labour. The party also won't be helped by the surprise resignation of Charles Chauvel yesterday - see Claire Trevett's MP quits ahead of reshuffle. Various bloggers have outlined why this news is bad for Labour - see: David Farrar's Chauvel resigns from Parliament, and No Right Turn's Goodbye Charles. Cameron Slater is also running a series of blog post on the future prospects of the party's deputy leader - see, for example, Grant Robertson, Prime Minister? - Delivering Heads.
The bigger issue for Labour is its potential coalition partners. Senior Labour activist Greg Presland has blogged about the likely problems of working with Winston Peters: 'How could a Labour Green Coalition include New Zealand First? The simple answer is that it could not. It would be inherently unstable, its policy goals would be shackled by the strange world view NZF has about issues such as climate change' - see: Labour's Coalition Prospects.
There is an increasing focus on the role of NZ First after the 2014 election - in particular, see David Farrar's The nightmare for the next PM and Stuff's Which NZ First wheel will fall off next?. And if there's any doubt about the likelihood of Peters getting his party over the line in 2014, his recent campaigning about Maori health funding is another example of his willingness and ability to exploit hot-button issues - see Brook Sabin's Rongoa healers defend taxpayer funding. Also on the issue, see: Mathew Backhouse and Rebecca Quilliam's Trust calls Peters' comments 'scaremongering' and the Dominion Post editorial, Monitoring needed for traditional healing.
What about Mana? It is clearly embarrassing for Hone Harawira to have news such as David Fisher's Harawira sons charged over attack on 12-year-old boy. David Farrar has responded to defend Harawira from being associated with the story - see: Nothing to do with Hone. Nonetheless, Fisher also reports, Harawira steps in to settle dispute.
Other recent items of interest or importance:
* The blogosphere has been a bit stale lately, so its good news that Martyn Bradbury - far from retiring from blogging - is setting up a whole new blogging experiment - see his announcement: Announcing my new media project - TheDailyBlog.co.nz - read the other side of the story. But how long will it last? When Cameron Slater launched a similar venture (a collaborative blog labelled 'Gotcha') with Cathy Odgers a few years ago, the wheels started falling off immediately. Meanwhile, No Right Turn has just celebrated Ten years, and David Farrar is about to do likewise with Kiwiblog: A 10th birthday party.
* Chris Trotter critiques the Living Wage campaign, suggesting that it shows just how weak New Zealand's labour movement has become - see: Low-paid staff need solidarity. In contrast, Rodney Hide says the education unions are far too strong - see: Mad and bad unions hold us to ransom.
* Just how much spin do politicians need? - see Bernard Orsman's Mayor heavy on 'spin doctors'.
* It's not just iwi lawyers who earn big bucks from treaty cases. Tony Wall looks at who the government has paid for help since 2008 and there are a lot of ex-politicians on the list, including Paul Swain, Tukoroirangi Morgan, Jim Bolger, Rick Barker and Wira Gardiner - see: Treaty cases earn top dollar for 'top team'.
* This had to be written, but would have been a tough task given the competition from Richard Prosser's own pen - see Steve Braunias' The Secret Diary of ... Richard Prosser.
* Finally, ever since Jenny Shipley became the first New Zealand Prime Minister to attend the Hero Parade, in 1999, mainstream politicians have been frequent participants in the public celebrations of the LGBT community. This has made for some fantastic and interesting photo opportunities - some of which are reproduced in this blog post, NZ politicians at gay events - images.