Pity the poor Treasury boffins set to release their Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Update (Prefu) on Thursday.
The Public Finance Act requires the Prefu to be released between 30 and 20 working days before election day. The law mandates that it will now all need to be updated for release between September 7 and 21. Thursday, September 17 would be the equivalent date to this Thursday on the new timetable.
By then, all the forecasts will be materially different – most probably significantly worse.
Nevertheless, the Prime Minister's choice of Saturday, October 17, was politically masterful.
It is enough of an extension to avoid accusations of unfairness against parties other than Labour, which risked the election looking illegitimate. But it was not Winston Peters and Judith Collins' preferred date of November 21, which would have made Jacinda Ardern look controlled by her Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
The delay is also consistent with public opinion, as measured by the Herald's pollsters Kantar, the National Party's Curia and presumably also Labour's UMR.
Perhaps most decisive in the Labour leader's calculations, October 17 is still early enough that the worst of the economic impact of the first and second lockdowns will not be fully apparent.
The delay means Ardern will have to tolerate the presumably bad news of June quarter GDP being released before early voting begins on Saturday, October 3, rather than just two days before polls close under the old timetable.
But she will still be able to avoid the much more politically important September quarter unemployment result due on November 4, which is certain not to repeat the June quarter shock suggesting unemployment had fallen to just 4 per cent.
After again "eliminating" Covid-19 over the next couple of weeks, Ardern can also safely bet she will not need to order a third lockdown before October 17, no matter how incompetent her Government's management of the border and quarantine systems continues to be.
The Treasury is also likely to publish the Financial Statements of the Government of New Zealand for the Year Ended June 30 2020 on the Tuesday before the election. While the debt numbers will be horrifying, the topic will allow Labour to end its campaign talking about the $80 billion of spending cuts it alleges would occur under National.
In combatting the current outbreak, Labour claims to be following a pre-prepared "resurgence plan" although nothing resembling such a plan has been published or released under the Official Information Act.
In fact, Labour's campaign strategists are making a virtue of just winging it, with all the political flexibility that provides.
Political commentators and scholars call for parties to release policy but political strategists know any policy beyond the banal is dangerous for incumbents – and sometimes also for challengers.
On the grounds "there is no playbook for Covid", Labour explicitly says it won't be issuing substantial policy documents. It is likely to rule out anything that might upset the median voter, including tax rises – except perhaps on the top 1 per cent of incomes. If it takes that step, it will challenge the axioms of mathematics by claiming such tax rises will have a material effect on paying back its debts.
In effect, Labour is positioning itself as the conservative party. It will claim it can be relied upon to put health and safety first, but that it will not do anything beyond that to jeopardise jobs or the economic status quo – and it will borrow as necessary to look after the victims of the recession.
In difficult times, this is almost exactly in line with what voters want to hear. Moreover, Labour will imply that it would risk New Zealand's international reputation – an almost meaningless term in actuality – if Kiwis voters shocked the world by removing our superstar Prime Minister.
For National, merely claiming it will be a better economic and quarantine manager is unlikely to be anything like enough, especially after the party's dramas of recent months. Claiming it will deliver lower debt in the 2030s delivers nothing but risk.
Nor are voters much interested now in bold promises about the future, despite the efforts put into them by National's infrastructure spokesman Chris Bishop. In the current climate, voters' outlooks don't extend beyond the next 12 months and are limited to the more mundane issues of basic economic survival.
National now has no option but to front up with the comprehensive policy programme it has said it has been developing since the release of its discussion documents last year, to provide better alternatives to Labour in everything from housing to mental health.
Ardern has given National just enough time to show they have something exciting to offer – and, equally, just enough time to prove they don't.
• Matthew Hooton is an Auckland-based PR consultant. He was speechwriter for former National Leader Todd Muller. These views are his own.