COMMENT: By Claire Trevett:
If National Party leader Simon Bridges needed a visual reminder of how merciless the polls can be, it was sitting above him in Parliament's Public Gallery in the form of former Labour leader David Cunliffe.
It was Parliament's first day back and Cunliffe proved something of an omen for what awaited Bridges.
The night before the Newshub Reid Research poll put Bridges on a miserable 5 per cent as preferred Prime Minister - lower than even Cunliffe got, despite leading Labour to a dire 24 per cent result in 2014.
But that was the Labour of yesteryear. The Labour of today was in government and soon made it clear Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's creed of kindness did not stretch to Bridges.
The Prime Minister had set out the statement of the Government's priorities for the year and Bridges' job was to respond to it.
The debate did at least help the seasonal labour shortage, such was the cherry picking of statistics involved on both sides.
But when Bridges stood, the Government MPs quickly made it clear the only number they really cared about was five.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson took particular relish in showing no mercy.
When Robertson was subjected to prolonged challenge from Bridges on economic growth, Robertson responded with a "don't worry about me" and pointed at Judith Collins who did somewhat better in the preferred Prime Minister stakes than Bridges had.
When Bridges referred to people "languishing on the dole", Robertson said: "You're getting close to it."
Labour MPs chortled in delight when Ardern accused Bridges of presenting policy positions without a way to pay for them, repeating former Prime Minister John Key's famous "Show me the money" line from 2014.
But National also had some numbers at its disposal.
By coincidence, Labour's result in that poll was 47 per cent - the same as the number of houses built so far in the KiwiBuild programme. So when Ardern finally ventured to "proudly" talk about KiwiBuild, there was a return chorus of "Show us the houses" from National MPs.
Bridges returned to the theme in his own speech before moving to the 54 jobs created so far by the Provincial Growth Fund, prompting a startling braying from the direction of Regional Development Minister Shane Jones.
But the number five came back to haunt him. When Bridges took the mickey out of the Green Party for being near the 5 per cent threshold, there was a raucous jeer and delighted Labour and Green MPs all held up the five fingers of their hands in response.
The only bright spot for Bridges in the response to him was NZ First leader Winston Peters referring to the poll as the "Reid Rubbish Newshub poll." Peters' NZ First Party was on just 2.9 per cent in that same poll, although National MP Nick Smith generously rounded that up by hollering "Three per cent" at Peters.
It was the only mercy Bridges got from Peters, who began by mocking Bridges' accent, referring to China as "Choina". He corrected his grammar, saying Bridges' should have spoken of "fees-free" policy rather than a "free fees" policy. Peters moved on to questioning Bridges' business credentials and what he described as a late discovery by Bridges and deputy Paula Bennett that they were Maori.
There was somebody else enjoying the pillorying of Bridges. That was Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross, back in Parliament for the first time since he was kicked out of National for a variety of things, not least disloyalty to Bridges.
He sat alone in a row right at the back of the Debating Chamber behind the other National MPs who studiously blanked him out.
The greatest derision heaped on Bridges came at the point Bridges referred to "a future National Government that I lead". The howls of laughter were long and loud.
The only one laughing longer than the Government MPs was Ross.