An apology: this column is almost certainly out of date. Probably someone in New Zealand politics resigned in the time it took you to read this sentence. Could be another one by now.

The whiplash New Zealand election of 2017 is clearly doing its darnedest to keep up with recent campaigns around the world, trying to match the absurdist script of US politics, which is becoming about as plausible as the final seasons of Dallas. Here, similarly, there's just too much plot. With one month to go until advance voting opens to us all, there's plenty of time to pace out the next twists in this bleak comedy, whether they be a new Nicky Hager book, a legal threat from Eminem or a Kim Dotcom event at the Town Hall. Can we not slow it down a bit? Please. We could all use a cup of tea and a lie down.

The decision by Metiria Turei to fess up about historic benefit fraud set in motion a sequence of events that led to four political resignations - three of them Green MPs, including Turei herself. Her approach has been roundly judged to have backfired. Whether it will be remembered that way is another question: while it may not have generated quite the conversation about welfare that she sought, it has started something.

It has certainly laid bare the scale of imagination-poverty that persists in New Zealand when it comes to beneficiaries - the bludger stereotypes have gone nowhere. And we're also very good at shunning complexity in favour of a black-and-white slanging match. It's been Team Outraged versus Team Sainthood, and not a lot in between.


You should not lie to get a benefit. You should do what it takes to keep your child fed and healthy. Metiria Turei is a courageous and credible person. Metiria Turei's account at times began to unravel. For journalists to scrutinise Turei's account was not just defensible, but necessary. The scale of scrutiny seems to differ from politician to politican, and we should ask why that is. Some of the salvos hurled at Turei were contemptible. The Greens, like the others, take pragmatic strategic decisions. They knew this was a big risk. They botched parts of it.

It is possible to think all these things at the same time.

But there is another reason why it may not have backfired, or not at least for the centre-left. While the National Party will of course double down on their characterisation of an Ardern-led coalition as hapless and motley, Ardern almost certainly wouldn't be the leader at all were it not for Turei's autobiographical intervention. That led to a leap in Green polling, at the expense of Labour. That in turn triggered the Little-for-Ardern switcheroo - which now looks quite a contrast in the stagecraft of resignation when compared with the Greens' fiasco, in which they've denied themselves even the bump of a new face alongside the remaining co-leader James Shaw. But the Ardern effect, based on an outrageously assured debut week, has turned the election on its head.

It was a Jacindafest for Labour's transport policy launch at Wynyard Quarter on Sunday. It was Destiny's Church. It was midnight at the Gathering, Takaka, 1999. I'm exaggerating.

It wasn't anything like that. But for the first time in a long while the crowd wasn't having to pretend to be confident. You could see the veneration in the eyes of the faithful as they strained to work out which word to emphasise in the footwear-inspired chant "Let's do this".

Later in the afternoon, the National Party managed to rummage together a crowd for its rival launch on a platform at Papakura railway station. But the sun had given up, and it turned out the trains weren't running that day. The embarrassment mounted further when Auckland Council slapped them on the wrist, saying political events were forbidden at stations. For a campaign already bloated with transport imagery - horse race politics, leaders thrown under the bus, and the ubiquitous boats of the TV ads - here was a train-wreck of symbolism. Labour in the ascendant, National in decline.

Except National in decline not so much. The two polls that emerged this week did show Labour surge, but National remained firmly in the 40s. A rock of stability.

Their serenity would have been shaken, however, by Ardern skyrocketing in the preferred PM stakes. With English and Ardern all but neck and neck, the focus on the leaders is here to stay. Against the PM's schoolmasterly solemnity, the Labour leader is all about "relentlessly positive". That's worked so far, but the mantra could wear out its welcome - it does, after all, have the ring of "Absolutely Positively Wellington", a slogan with a silent "even though we're getting rained on at right angles". But it doesn't matter: turns out that leadership is not what people vote on at all. That's according to Steven Joyce, the man who ran National campaigns under the banner "Team Key".


The most remarkable thing about the leader parade may now be this: they're a bunch of novices. As of tomorrow, Bill English will have been leader of the National Party, at his second time of trying, for eight months. Ardern's experience as leader reaches back into the mists of time, or to be more specific, last Tuesday. James Shaw is a comparative veteran, with 26 months in the job. But there's one exception, of course, among the main party leaders still standing. The Rt Hon Winston Peters. Now into his 289th month as leader of NZ First, his experience tallies at more than eight times the other three combined.

Peters has been relatively quiet during the helter skelter of the last fortnight - and with the polls showing NZ First, too, slipping at the expense of Ardern's Labour, don't be surprised to see him backspinning into the spotlight any moment. It's far from panic stations, however. Despite all the upheaval, the party is doing just fine. Plus ça change, sunshine. The golden rule of electing an MMP government remains: voters exercise their franchise by way of two ticks. Seats in parliament are allocated broadly proportionate to the party vote. And then Winston decides.