As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern set about her first international mission, a minor imbroglio over letterhead was erupting back at home.

In an apparent bid to show Labour and its partners NZ First and the Greens were united in solidarity, the letterhead Labour had sent to ministers to use for correspondence and press releases came in a deep red.

It was apparently carefully blended to combine the brighter red of Labour with a bit of the black of NZ First - in MMP proportions. It is Coalition Red.

It is unclear whose brainwave this was, but the chances of NZ First leader Winston Peters kowtowing to a demand to use red letterhead with the underlying symbolism of his party "blending" with Labour are next to zero.


He has seen enough parties shrivel and die to know that what begins as a joyful dance around the maypole with a major party can rapidly turn into a mortal embrace.

Thus far, the NZ First ministers have resisted and continue to use plain old black.

Oddly, the ministers from the Green Party have been obediently using it despite green not being included in Coalition Red. Maybe it was sold to them as Communist Red.

Such are the teething problems for a new government.

The teething problems have gone beyond fripperies such as letterhead loaded with symbolism.

The one who has really needed some Bonjela to help soothe the pain of teething was poor old Kelvin Davis.

To Davis fell the job of Acting Prime Minister and with it a bout of stage fright.

Labour ministers are under orders not to outshine the Prime Minister and not to say or do anything stupid.


The response of the usually descriptive Davis was to not say anything at all.

His stock answers as Prime Minister in Question Time were variations of "yes", "no" and "we will make decisions in due course."

On Wednesday, he mixed it up a bit by saying "yes", "no" and 'in due course" in te reo Maori instead of English.

On one occasion, he had help from Finance Minister Grant Robertson, who could be seen muttering "yes and no" to Davis before Davis stood up and answered "yes and no".

Even with so few words at his disposal, he ended up having to correct himself for having said at first that the costs of providing 1800 new police had been worked out when they had not.

Davis was not the only victim suffering from what Robertson diagnosed as bouts of "enthusiasm".

There was Revenue Minister Stuart Nash's enthusiastic proclamation GST would "absolutely" be charged on lower-value goods ordered from overseas because "it's the right thing to do".

Robertson quickly hauled that back by simply declaring Nash had got ahead of himself.
Robertson himself more capably contended with National's attempts to resuscitate its much mocked $11.7 billion hole.

After economists last week predicted Labour would have to borrow much more than it had believed to afford its policies, Joyce sensed his Eureka moment could come true after all.

That was the much discredited $11.7b hole he had claimed to unearth in Labour's books.

Now National was apparently pulling out all the stops to ensure it came true.

First came its decision to support the extension of Paid Parental Leave to 26 weeks.

National did not want to have to pay for such measures when it was in Government but was apparently more than happy to add to the bill Labour would have to pay in the hopes Labour will blow its budget commitments.

National possibly also took other precautions to ensure this fiscal hole belatedly appeared.

It is becoming apparent that National left the political version of rotting fish under the floorboards in the Beehive offices as a parting gift for Labour.

Labour ministers have been referring to these rotting fish by the delicate term of "surprises".

By "surprises" read "things National committed to that will now cost Labour more than it had expected".

The ministers are yet to provide details, but the surprises mentioned so far include school building projects, the bowel screening programme and funding of DHBs.

By week's end an ever greater teething problem had emerged for Labour.

This one will not necessarily ease with time for it involved the first of what is likely to be a number of policy conflicts between NZ First and the Green Party.

This week's came in an accidentally released email that showed the Greens were baulking at supporting NZ First's demand for a "waka jumping" bill to contend with MPs who were kicked out or deserted their party mid-term.

This was deemed so important it is included in the 100 Days programme.

The Greens do not support such a move - but Labour needs it to support it if they are to meet its commitment to NZ First to pass it.

In an internal email accidentally sent to a journalist, Green MP Golriz Ghahraman said if the Greens opposed it they would cause "tensions" for the newly minted government. On the other hand, if they supported it, their own base would be upset.

She proposed the Greens at least try to get something in return, such as Parihaka Day recognised.

Labour's response was hardly helpful - while the Greens tried to downplay it as "constructive conversations", Justice Minister Andrew Little accused them of "a cheap horse-trading exercise".

Peters too waded in saying by comparison to the Greens, in NZ First "we don't sell our principles, we don't either half-way in or half-way out."

This high and mighty statement about the Greens could well prove a Coalition Red rag to a bull.

Ghahraman concluded the Greens did have licence to oppose it - saying the confidence and supply agreement gave them the independence to support or oppose on a case-by-case basis.

Labour has a rather different view of that.

For when the Green Party signed up with Labour, it promised to "act in good faith to allow [other] agreements to be complied with."

It had effectively signed up to support everything in NZ First's agreement, as indeed has NZ First to the Greens' agreement.

Alas, the only protest mechanism at its disposal is to stop using the Coalition Red letterhead.

All in all, there were loud sighs of relief when Ardern jetted back into the country.

Most of those ministers suffering from Robertson's diagnosis of "enthusiasm" will quickly settle into their jobs.

But for the time being it is sink or swim - with National doing bombs into the pool to help them along.