When Sir Michael Cullen took the road from Government to Opposition after the 2008 election, he described it as being "a very public form of castration."

In a piece he wrote for the Listener a few months later, Cullen recalled his office being packed into boxes by his platoon of ministerial staff.

"It feels like an ancient Egyptian burial, thankfully without the actual death, with all your possessions accompanying you to the other world."

Then he got to his new office in the Opposition quarters in Parliament House and discovered only he was there to unpack them all.


The reality check that is Moving Day will happen this weekend for the National Party.

In National some MPs seem to genuinely believe the sense of umbrage among its voters about the outcome is such that it will regain the government benches in three years' time.

Even English, who should know better, seems to half believe this.

For the time being English is still benefiting from the good will and pity of National voters who believe he was dicked by NZ First.

But that will wear off.

National is not quite in the same situation as Labour was in 2009. The tide against it was not as large - it was merely spritzing its toes rather than swamping it.

That is largely due to the efforts of English.

But it was an incoming tide and would soon have been knee level. That tide will not reverse now either, unless things get very hairy indeed.


So for English, 2017 is likely to be as good as it gets.

For his own ego, it might have been better to leave now with the legacy and respect he garnered intact.

English is no idiot and is not as affected by high estimations of his own wondrousness as others are.

He presumably knows he is in a King Canute situation.

But he also knows in the short term at least, his leadership will be critical for National to adapt to Opposition quickly.

English has been in Opposition before and by the end of those nine years, he was very good at it.


He knows it can only be effective when tearing the other side to shreds, rather than ripping yourselves apart.

He also knows the morale sapping effect it has.

English has pointed to National's size as an advantage in Opposition. Unless carefully tended, that is also a recipe for chaos. The more MPs, the more factions can spring up and the more people to foment mischief.

It might also pay for National MPs to stop blaming Peters' decision for the plight they are in.

The coalition agreement between NZ First and Labour highlights just how improbable a New Zealand First - National coalition ever was.

Most elements of the agreement are Labour policies dressed up to make it look like NZ First was getting its way. That is more because Labour has changed over the last nine years than because NZ First has.


That includes on immigration, foreign buyers, economic reforms and even the regional development fund - or as it will no doubt come to be called, The Winston Northland Re-Election Fund.

Despite all of that, among National's considerations should be its approach to NZ First. It can try and kill it off altogether, and that will be tempting.

The problem is NZ First could still be National's best chance of getting back into Government in the future.

That may not happen while Peters is leader - and despite the chatter about the 'succession' Peters himself has shown no sign he is ready to leave.

But his successor will not be as driven by obsessions, peculiarities and betes noire as Peters - all of which have piled up over the years into seething toxic rage against his National homeland.

In the meantime, English will have enough to do to tend to his own party.


Had National managed to regain the government benches, English would have had to deliver on change. He had recognised that and promised to do so during the campaign in areas such as poverty and the environment.

Change is even more important in Opposition - and will need to go beyond policy to personnel. English will do his own reshuffle soon.

English should look more to his juniors and mid-benchers to re-forge the party's policies and the face it presents. Some of the older hands will fall away of their own accord. Others may need to watch few re-runs of Maggie Barry's gardening shows.

In those, they will learn that when winter comes, an ailing rose bush needs a jolly hard prune to help it flower again.