This was a mix of bullish and Billish.

Bullish because it painted an upbeat picture of books in robust overall shape, of a surplus growing substantially over coming years. Billish because Minister English characteristically resisted temptations of headline-grabbing cut or spend flourish.

Watching the Finance Minister's speech on the television, it was impossible to tell what the prime minister was doing, but given the success of their contradictory double-act over recent times, I imagined him whirling his finger in the air, insubordinately spelling out the letters TAX CUT.

While the last couple of years have witnessed textbook examples of political triangulation - in 2014 free doctors' visits for children up to 13, then last year the "historic" if modest increase in some benefit levels - this time there was no emblematic flag planted in the opposition's ideological terrain.


The most meaningful boost was, however, in an area traditionally owned by the left: health.

With the sector facing budgetary challenges as daunting as a Dunedin hospital meal, the funding is desperately needed. The nationwide bowel screening programme decision is an unequivocally good thing.

Andrew Little attacked a "hodge-podge" Budget, lacking wider vision or strategy - and he may have a point. But the government is of course going to save any lolly scramble for next year, and the incrementalist approach beloved of Mr English has worked for National so far - and if it ain't broke ...

Except housing clearly is broken. And the pots of cash for social housing and Auckland land supply amount to little more than tinkering.

The Budget-eve communication breakdown between Paula Bennett and Bill English over cash-for-quitting-Auckland was a trivial but telling illustration of a government scrambling to do something about a problem it has neglected.

There was nothing in the Budget to address the unwieldy crisis of housing. There was no eye-catching surprise to evict housing from the headlines.

Indeed, the most dramatic thing in this Budget may have been the arrest of a man who managed to park his ute on parliamentary grounds and set it alight. I've no idea what the protest was about; maybe the driver was simply trying to heat up his lounge.