At lunch with one of New Zealand's wealthiest (and most private) businessmen this week I was intrigued to hear him confidently predict a change of government.

I would have discounted his opinion as evidence of the phenomenon of "Jacindamania" that seems to be sweeping the country, but my friend is politically astute and has predicted and backed winners for as long as I can remember.

I'd need to see a few more polls and a couple of leaders' debates before I'd agree with my well-heeled mate, but it's certainly possible that the last couple of weeks have marked a watershed in New Zealand politics and set a new direction for the country, all triggered by a minor party's bizarre miscalculation.

Green co-leader Metiria Turei's speech at her party's annual general meeting revealing her history of benefit fraud surprised me greatly.


Though I could see that this admission would draw attention to the Greens' social-welfare policy launch, I also knew that the late Rod Donald, the Greens' master strategist, who I knew well, would never have countenanced such a dangerous stunt which would inevitably spotlight Turei's household and financial situation all those years ago.

At first, the revelation seemed to work a miracle, with polls picking up a big jump in support for the Greens, almost entirely at the expense of the Labour Party. But while this was happening, the inevitable forensic examination of Metiria Turei's past got under way.

Her performance on television was initially flawless and could leave no doubt that she was a loving and committed mum, but there had been no checking into what footprints she might have left behind after the passing of 20-plus years.

One piece of evidence that can't be eradicated is a person's electoral enrolment history. It was here that matters began to come apart badly.

First it was discovered that one of the flatmates she possibly omitted to declare to Winz (or whatever it was called then) was her mother and on another electoral roll she was found at the same address as the father of her baby.

If she had been cohabiting with this gentleman, then no benefit at all would have been payable, however she claimed she didn't live where she'd signed up and had put her name down at the father's address so she could cast her vote for a friend.

She did this while running for the same spoof party in another electorate.

By this time gossip was swirling around the "beltway" and it became widely known that the other grandmother was well off and highly respected.

The image of a struggling solo mum forced to lie to avoid penury narrative began to crumble but not before Labour Party Leader Andrew Little had taken responsibility for his party's bad polling and fallen on his sword.

New Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern made it clear that Turei could not expect to be a minister in a Labour-Green Government and, in short order, two established and respected Green MPs announced their departure should Metiria Turei remain as a co-leader of their party.

After hanging tough for a day or two, she threw in the towel, citing unbearable pressure on her family.

Metiria Turei is a real loss to Parliament and the outcome of this fiasco is extremely sad for the Green Party, which is now sailing perilously close to annihilation in the coming election.

In the current Parliament the Greens have 14 MPs, and that means their leadership is granted a significant taxpayer-funded budget for activities undiscoverable by the media, such as staff, research and polling.

It is this resource which could have been used to at least check on Metiria Turei's electoral history while this disastrous strategy was being contemplated.

The whole affair has brought the Labour Party tantalisingly close to government. Jacinda Ardern has grabbed the opportunity presented to her with both hands and, by just being herself, generated a tidal wave of support and put her party in its best position for years.

National seems flummoxed and has recycled policy announcements and pumped up unavoidable expenditure as lavish generosity.

Just this week Aucklanders heard that there would be $18 million spent on new classrooms.

With houses averaging $1million-plus in this neck of the woods, that just doesn't seem like enough money when we consider the tsunami of immigrants coming here courtesy of the National-led Government.

It's unlikely that this trivial sum will go close to keeping up with the demand generated by growth in numbers and it would have been better to have made no announcement at all.

If the Labour activists redouble their door knocking, phoning and fundraising efforts, September 23 could produce an unexpectedly good evening.

* Mike Williams grew up in Hawke's Bay. He is CEO of the NZ Howard League and a former Labour Party president. All opinions are his and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.