Labour will be a much better government in its second term, I think. All that warm, fuzzy use of public funds for no purpose beyond virtue signalling will be forgotten as the country comes to terms with Covid-19, unemployment and public debt.
In fact, Labour has been a different government since the pandemic arrived. It had to quickly become a decisive government and it did. I didn't like the lockdown and fear it has done more lasting damage than the disease will do, but there can be no denying it was decisive.
It was also more courageous than many may realise. When a decision has proven popular it can seem to have been easy. But back in March when epidemiologists were urging Jacinda Ardern to impose unprecedented restrictions on New Zealand life, she could not have known how compliant the country would be.
She could not have foreseen how uncritically newspapers and television would support and amplify her appeal for national unity. She could not have known a contagion already raging overseas could be contained so quickly that she and New Zealand would become an epidemiological celebrity.
The lockdown effectively ended the coalition and gave us a single-party government. Coalition partners disappeared to work from home like almost everybody else, leaving Ardern seemingly alone in the Beehive with three Wellington ministers, Grant Robertson, Chris Hipkins and Andrew Little.
They have been the Government ever since and they have been given an overwhelming mandate for the next three years. It is a Labour government, the Greens will have little leverage. Everything the Prime Minister has said this week indicates she is well aware Labour owes its majority to voters coming from its right, not its left. National lost votes, the Greens gained some.
It is the first majority a single party has won under MMP and it is hard to overstate the difference this will make. When Winston Peters put Labour in office three years ago it was carrying a lot of Opposition planks adopted when it thought it would not need to act on them. Its polls had not been promising, which they usually are for a party coming to power.
Labour came in saddled with commitments to a free year at university, the Pike River re-entry, light rail on Auckland streets, a cycleway on the Harbour Bridge, unrealistic housing and environmental targets, and accepted a few more doozies from Peters, which included $3 billion for unbankable provincial projects and dismantling Auckland's port.
By contrast, Labour's campaign for a second term has contained almost no specific promises apart from another long weekend. The polls, which National usually led through 2018 and 2019, turned around when the pandemic struck. That gave Labour time to ditch most of its first term baggage.
Many of the fanciful projects and targets were sidelined or abandoned before the election and I think the rest will give way to better decisions in the years ahead.
Improvements to Auckland's infrastructure, for example, might work with rather than against people's preference for personal vehicles. Labour's love of public transport will need to face the fact that fewer people want to commute anywhere by any means now.
Lockdowns have accelerated the trend to working online and many may not willingly trade the freedom, flexibility and efficiency of working at home for the time-consuming travel, meetings and schedules of work under an office clock. The consequences of Covid-19 for urban planning are going to endure and its impact on tourism and international air travel might also last a long time.
But it is in ordinary public administration that I think Labour in its second term will be better than it was pre-Covid. It will need to be. In those first two years, it lived down to Bill English's observation: "Labour thinks the solution to every problem is to dump a load of money on it."
Just about every week we got announcements of sizeable sums allocated for a worthy purpose but with no mention of a specific programme the money would fund. Labour seemed to think that was a detail for departments to decide.
It cannot afford that attitude now. It needs to do what National did after the GFC recession and the Christchurch earthquakes. National did not cut spending – the Budgets of 2011 and 2012 were more deeply in deficit than any we had seen previously. But thereafter National held spending steady by making departments justify every additional outlay.
When Labour came in it called that policy "underfunding", implying it's impossible for an organisation to do more with a constrained budget. Everyone in the private sector knows you can do more with less when you must.
I doubt we will hear the word "underfunding" from this Government again. Not if it is to retain the votes it has gained.