The Prime Minister is once again the undisputed leader of the nation.
In the next polls, Jacinda Ardern's "good in a crisis" rating will be through the roof. Even the fiercest critics of her usually incompetent regime recognise she rises to the challenge during a crisis.
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In contrast, Simon Bridges has again failed to strike the right tone.
None of his criticisms of this week's mini-Budget was unreasonable. But the National leader has reached that dangerous point where people disagree with his statements not because of what he says but simply because it is him saying it.
Bridges is right that extra money for those who already have a guaranteed income — superannuitants and other beneficiaries — is arguably less rational than putting the lot into protecting jobs in serious doubt.
Still, this is a Labour-NZ First Government. It is entitled to tilt its response to its preferred constituencies, especially when it matters less who spends the money than that it is spent by someone.
Longer-term assistance for businesses is expected in the May 14 "Recovery Budget".
The current emergency is of radically greater complexity than last year's terrorist attack.
That involved comforting the victims, supporting the police, denouncing evil and acting against privately owned military-style weapons.
Whatever arguments can be made about the new firearms regime, Ardern followed a playbook that any New Zealand Prime Minister of the last 50 years would have executed tolerably, even the wooden Geoffrey Palmer or the pugilistic Robert Muldoon.
The virus emergency requires decision-making where every option will be disastrous for some large number of people.
When Bridges asked to see the advice on which Ardern based her new border restrictions, he was again demonstrating his misapprehension that political leadership is about ticking off proposals put in front of him by bureaucrats.
At all times, but especially in a crisis, leadership is about making decisions in the absence of clear information and with underlings offering incompatible paths forward.
Ardern can fairly be accused of dithering in the early stages of the crisis, just as columnists can be accused of understating the public health risks.
For the first six weeks, her Government's response was seemingly managed by policy analysts who sought to provide the perfect, evidence-based, uncontested advice that Bridges apparently demands.
Only more recently has Ardern brought in people with experience in making decisions in radically uncertain environments and in leading command-and-control operations.
Arguing over whether Ardern should have moved faster to shut the border, expand testing or introduce limits on public gatherings seems important now, but soon no one will even remember the debate — or what tone Bridges should have struck after the mini-Budget.
Some in National, including many in its increasingly powerful evangelical wing in Parliament, believe Covid-19 has been overblown, either because of God's promise to Noah or because they think it will turn out just to be another Sars or Y2K. Trying to appease this faction makes Bridges sound incoherent.
It is also possible that Ardern's measures could turn out to be so effective that New Zealand can look forward to an idyllic few months where we broadly carry on our business safe behind our thousand-mile moat.
We'll have enough food and can stay busy selling houses to each other. Unable to do the Everest or Machu Picchu treks, we'll learn that tramping in Fiordland is better anyway.
Far more likely is that New Zealand is heading towards a complete shutdown, similar to Italy, Spain or France. The extent will depend on how quickly the number of cases grows, especially as potentially 80,000 citizens rush home before all international travel shuts down, and also on the population's tolerance for risk.
It is unlikely parents will want their children bunched in classes of 30 for much longer, or that the teacher unions will be happy for their members to be in those classrooms with them.
Whatever the epidemiologists tell her, Ardern is not wrong to respond to such pressure in the early stages, knowing she will later need to maintain public co-operation for measures more associated with totalitarian dictatorships than liberal democracies.
The Prime Minister's personal popularity is therefore not irrelevant to maintaining public health.
The economic and social effects of a European-style shutdown for perhaps months are so horrifying that the political implications are barely relevant.
A decline in economic activity of more than 10 per cent is the very definition of a depression. The US Treasury picks its unemployment may hit 20 per cent.
With people confined to home and deprived of normal human connection at work, sports clubs or the local pub — and as many are made redundant over the phone — alcoholism, drug abuse, family violence and mental distress would markedly increase.
Ardern's aptitude for crisis leadership and Bridges' comparative failings mean conventional wisdom is that the coronavirus will benefit Labour on September 19.
But assuming it is even legal to leave our homes by then so the election can proceed, the record of incumbent governments winning elections during depressions or deep recessions cannot be encouraging for Labour supporters still interested in partisan politics.
Regardless of how they had responded to the last depression, almost all incumbent governments were swept from power in the early and mid-1930s. The 1970s oil shocks, the 1987 sharemarket crash, the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the 2007 global financial crisis were also unkind to incumbents, no matter how sensibly and competently they had responded.
More recently, the polling effects of Ardern's crisis leadership after March 15 had evaporated by September.
Economic depression and mass unemployment, an overwhelmed health system and empty schools, social confinement and societal breakdown, unprecedented personal boredom, and police and soldiers on the street are not good conditions for any government seeking re-election, no matter how well they performed at the beginning of a crisis. The odds of Bridges becoming Prime Minister have therefore improved.
But the very prospect of a Prime Minister who has shown no aptitude for difficult decisions or inspirational leadership either as a minister or leader of the Opposition is causing some in his party to question whether they have an obligation to get rid of him before then.
- Matthew Hooton is an Auckland-based public relations consultant and lobbyist.