The annual conference of a governing party ought be an opportunity for it to reflect on how the Government is doing and, more important, how the country is doing under its stewardship.

On past experience of the National Party, the only members doing any reflecting this weekend will be its leaders, in speeches of glowing praise for their accomplishments. They will do so with confidence drawn from polls that continue to suggest the Government's third term will not be its last.

The polls show the Labour Party still failing to offer an attractive alternative. Andrew Little, the fourth Labour leader since National came to office, has made little impression but is likely to remain until the election due late next year - if for no better reason than that MPs have decided nothing is to be gained by another change.

Labour has ventured some new policy this year - some of it worthwhile, such as infrastructure bonds of housing developments, some of just electoral bait. A free tertiary education entitlement was in the latter category. None of it moved the polls.


Nor has a formal alliance with the Greens made much difference, partly because its purpose is confusing. Mr Little says it expires on election day, keeping his options open to deal with Winston Peters if he needs to.

That is good for Mr Peters, keeping him in the pundits' calculations as supposed "king-maker" though it seldom turns out that way after election day. The prospect of Mr Peters deciding an election probably boosts the vote of whichever of the main parties is more likely to win.

Labour's difficulties give John Key plenty of grist for a rambunctious speech to the conference if that is all he wants to do, along with dangling the prospect of tax cuts for the next election. But the party should be looking for something more thoughtful from him.

National's continued ascendancy in the polls reflects an economy still performing more strongly than most others but also with serious social imbalances steadily worsening. The Government appears to have no more answers to house price rises following the failure of last year's tax restraints to do more than slow the rate of increase for two months. Nor is it seen to be doing enough for the homeless and desperate since winter set in.

A marae at Mangere is visibly doing more to provide emergency shelter than the Minister of Social Housing, who is beginning to look accident-prone.

Loose talk from her office maligned the leader of the marae's efforts and she embarrassed the Salvation Army when the Prime Minister claimed it was helping her officials to knock on the windows of people sleeping in cars and offer assistance, which was declined. Party members should be urging Paula Bennett to lift her game.

But it is house prices that should worry them from a political point of view, even if personally they are doing well on rising values. The public is not at all mystified about what is driving the housing market and what to do about it.

High immigration is seen as the culprit and stopping it, or at least diverting it from Auckland, is seen as the answer. Cutting immigration is not the answer but unless National finds a better one, immigration could rear up to bite the Government at any time. Look at Britain's referendum.