If the change in fortunes for National leader Bill English and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern needed illustration, it came at Ratana.

For the past nine years, National has formed a massive throng at the anniversary for the prophet Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana which kicks off the political year. English had been wooed for his influence as Finance Minister and for one year as Prime Minister.

This time it was Labour and its Government partners of NZ First and the Greens which filled the tent before the marae near Whanganui.

It was their first joint outing of the year and they were delighted to strut their stuff.


As the Government powhiri took place, National was left to while away 90 minutes in the beating sun waiting their turn. The only good news was that their contingent was so slim they could all fit under the shade of the trees at the waiting point.

Labour has a long alliance with Ratana and Ardern was the first leader to become Prime Minister in nine years.

It was never going to go badly for her and served as useful preparation for Waitangi, which is usually a more robust affair. She hit the right balance of politics, humour and acknowledgment of commitment.

She was feted by a long line-up of speakers and congratulated on her baby news.

There was only one speaker from the marae for National's powhiri and it was a respectful welcome borne from familiarity.

The messages the two leaders delivered were starkly different.

Ardern wanted manakitanga (hospitality, warmth) to be the driving force of her government and pointed to the response of Maori after the earthquakes in Canterbury and Kaikoura, as well as Te Puea Marae for homeless people.

"Where there was need, marae opened their doors and responded to people." She spoke of commitment and responsibility.


English had the split in Government ranks over the newly agreed Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership to toy with, saying it would not be the first time the Greens and NZ First took a contrary stance on something.

But at Ratana the sun was shining and there were no signs of any possible discord. Peters is notoriously prickly about ensuring the Greens are kept at arms' length from the coalition of Labour and NZ First.

But even Peters was in a generous enough mood to let them walk on to the pa alongside him — although slightly behind.