The sweetest sound to Beehive ears this week was the bleating of the Pt Chev and wider liberal establishments.
According to Greenpeace, the allocation of the first $8 billion of Jacinda Ardern's infrastructure spend-up was bad economics, made New Zealand a laggard on climate change and was thus immoral.
The usually unctuous left-wing millennials at Generation Zero slammed Ardern's announcement as "disgraceful". The bicycle and light-rail enthusiasts at the Greater Auckland website said it was "bewildering" the Ardern regime was throwing away "its rational, evidence-based programme" along with the goals of Phil Twyford and Julie-Anne Genter's controversial 2018 Government Policy Statement on Land Transport.
Pretty much everyone else, including undoubtedly the median voter and the mythical "Waitākere Man", thought Ardern's announcement was terrific. Their champion, Mike Hosking, praised it. Almost all major business and infrastructure groups issued gushing statements in support. The main exception was the Wellington Chamber of Commerce, which said the capital wasn't getting enough. That won't hurt Ardern with the rest of the country either.
The Herald's political editor, Audrey Young, wrote this week that one of the five defining issues of the election would be whether the Prime Minister has been a strong and inspirational leader or out of her depth.
The best answer is a bit of both.
Labour's long-time spin that Ardern is some sort of "policy wonk" has always been ridiculous. She showed no aptitude for policy development in any area in her nine years in opposition. If judged solely on her performance as Minister for Child Poverty Reduction, her performance in Government has been Twyford-esque, with every important indicator heading the wrong way.
But not every great leader has to be like Margaret Thatcher, micro-managing their ministers and personally re-writing Cabinet papers, speeches and letters in the middle of the night. It is perfectly acceptable to govern like Ronald Reagan, limiting oneself to tone, style, vision and maintaining national unity during challenging times.
It has been obvious since her first days as Leader of the Opposition and after March 15 that it is in this second mode of leadership that Ardern thrives.
Her problem is that while Reagan had the likes of George Shultz, Caspar Weinberger, Don Regan, James Baker and George HW Bush to implement his signature policies, Ardern has had, well, Twyford.
After the abysmal failure of her "year of delivery", Ardern had no option by December but to move into her strong and inspirational mode.
At the behest of the Herald's Mood of the Boardroom survey, the business community generally, all serious economists, the governor of the Reserve Bank and its own left-wing support base, the Government announced in December that it was loosening its Budget Responsibility Rules to invest in infrastructure.
The amount allocated, $12b, is of course a mere down payment on what is needed to reverse decades of underinvestment in infrastructure under National and Labour Governments. The Christchurch rebuild cost well over $40b. Preventing even just Auckland from becoming completely dysfunctional will cost at least that much more than currently budgeted.
The overwhelmingly positive response to the Government's first announcements and a stronger fiscal outlook than in December will give Ardern confidence to further extend the infrastructure stimulus. She already has another $4b in her pocket to distribute before the election. She would be justified in dipping further into the consolidated fund for more.
Despite having months to prepare since Robertson signalled his intentions at the Herald's Mood of the Boardroom breakfast, the Opposition's response to Wednesday's announcement was inastute. Simon Bridges, Paul Goldsmith and Chris Bishop headed out to Helen Clark's Waterview Tunnel, for which Bridges likes to take the credit. Their message was broadly an endorsement: that the Government had adopted National's plans which offered some sort of panacea, but that the same New Zealand Transport Agency that National wanted to build the new roads would somehow fail to do so under Labour.
National would have been far better to have slammed Ardern's announcement as inadequate and promised to double it. Decades of market research demonstrates voters are far more confident in National governments handling big sums than Labour ones.
Partly to counter that perception, Ardern's remarks on Wednesday made clear to anyone listening closely that Twyford has in practice had all his important portfolio responsibilities transferred to Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones.
It is now very clear how Labour plans to conduct its re-election campaign, and broadly it will be based on Reagan's landslide re-election in 1984, David Lange's in 1987 and Helen Clark's in 2002.
Labour's claim it will be factual is laughable. It knows facts will have no part in its campaign.
Instead, the Prime Minister will be presented in white, personifying the nation and beatifying us by her very presence. Around her but just beyond her sight will be a praetorian guard of Labour thugs ready to pitchfork anyone who dares challenge her saintly status.
Any focus on her Government's abysmal policy record will be slammed as dirty politics, negative and un-New Zealand. Now that New Zealand has been turned around, we'll be asked, why would we ever want to turn back? More cash will flow as needed. Pt Chev and Grey Lynn liberals will miss out. The money will go across the inner Waitematā to Waitākere Man.
If National tries to combat this by promising a mere return to the Key years and playing policy catch-up with Labour when it needs to, it will be as utterly defeated as it was in 1987 and 2002 — and as Walter Mondale was by Reagan in 1984.
Simon Bridges needs to show he offers strong and inspirational leadership, and at least something radically new. He needs to get ahead of Labour on issues, not merely respond.
Despite nearly two years to prepare, there's little sign of that so far. It was National that looked out of its depth this week.
- Matthew Hooton is an Auckland based public relations consultant and lobbyist.