Now that more of us are working from home by choice rather than decree, we should continue one habit acquired in lockdowns – putting aside time to watch political leaders in the raw as it were, unedited, unmediated.
Just as the Beehive press conferences have been interesting viewing during viral attacks, so now is Parliament's question time. Like the Beehive show, it's on three afternoons a week, lasts no longer than an hour and the scripted bits are easier to avoid. Record it and zip past the patsy questions from Labour MPs.
It always disappointed me that Jacinda Ardern spent so much of her press conferences reading a script written by her communications staff. You had to sit through it, the day's announcement was going to be in the treacle of prepared sentiment somewhere.
She was much better when she stopped reading and spoke off the cuff to questions. That was when her personal attributes were on display, especially her familiar way with reporters. Their questions were generally in sync with the Government's pandemic response and she called on them with the gestures of an orchestra conductor.
Parliament is different. Many will have tuned into Question Time on Tuesday to see how
National's new leader would go. It is refreshing to see someone who hasn't made his career at Parliament and may be capable of improving it.
The first thing Christopher Luxon should do is end this old ruse of filing the question, "Does the minister stand by all his/her statements?" to give the target no warning of the subject of questions to follow. Ministers now answer, "Yes, especially . . ." and recite something they are happy to repeat.
Luxon looks uninterested in "gotcha" games. His serious questions on Tuesday went to the heart of this Government's deficiencies. Questions such as, why is Auckland now under a red light rather than orange or green?
Act's leader, David Seymour, had priority on Tuesday's itinerary and he asked that question first. Seymour is exceptionally good. He is without peer in this Parliament when it comes to phrasing a concise, incisive question or sound bite. But Luxon's to the Prime Minister was on the button: "Which of the Government's stated criteria (for orange or green) has Auckland failed to meet?"
Ardern's answer was that Auckland is still the centre of a Delta outbreak and she is being cautious, as she has been, she pointed out, at every step down in alert levels. That is true. Cautious could be her middle name, and the public mostly thanks her for it. But it is a problem now that we are under these "traffic lights".
The red light is not supposed to be flashing unless "the health system is facing an unsustainable number of hospitalisations" or "action is needed to protect at-risk populations". Neither criterion has been cited for Auckland's current status.
This matters, especially to people who have business vulnerable to lockdowns that have been severely bruised by the past three and a half months. Looking ahead, they need signals to be as clear as a government can give them in these circumstances. Labour seldom seems to understand this.
Arden told Luxon Auckland's red phase is "transitional" and the published criteria will apply at some unstated later stage. But her actions to date make that hard to believe. If we get to green, where we should be now on the criteria (limited transmission, hospitalisations manageable, health services ready to respond), what will happen when Omicron arrives?
Will she wait to see whether hospitals can cope before she reaches for code red? I wouldn't like to be betting a business on it, especially after she went on to cite her success at containing the virus in answer to Luxon's questions about the Government's failure to expand hospitals' intensive care capacity.
She also offered a second excuse, pointing out the Government had in fact funded more intensive care capacity. There, right there, is this Government's fundamental problem. It seems to think that simply by awarding funds to a ministry for a worthy purpose it has
Like anyone who has managed a large organisation, Luxon knows you have to monitor its performance more closely than Labour ministers appear to do, want to do or probably know how to do.
They trust only public agencies. As in the vaccine roll-out, Covid treatment for people in self-isolation is now going to be under the care of public health organisations rather than their GPs. Expect bad news on this front next year.
Parliament is rising for the summer just as National has found new vigour. Luxon should aim to ensure Question Time remains compulsive viewing when they return.