It is Budget Day and politicians and their advisers have been frantically busy with the important task of choosing nicknames for the Budget, slogans, and ways to send subtle symbolic messages around it.

For Finance Minister Grant Robertson, the latter came in the form of wearing a hand-me-down tie to watch his first ever Budget come off the presses. It was Kris Faafoi's old tie.

Was this a nod to the moves against poverty or symbolic of a Budget that would offer hope for younger siblings, consigned to a life of wearing their elder's clothes?

Observers noted unintended symbolism in that Faafoi is Minister of Civil Defence, charged with tending to natural disasters.


There was also symbolism in the colour on the Budget documents themselves.

Such is the mounting cost of the NZ First's scorecard that not much of the money in the Budget can be spent on Labour's favourite things.

Instead Robertson decided at least the colour of the book that contained it be a shiny bright Labour red rather than the more muted "coalition red" (red mixed with a smidgen of black to include NZ First) that is used on Government letterhead.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's signalling was borrowed from former Finance Minister Bill English's playbook. She was in downplay mode.

It would be boring and predictable, so very, very predictable. It would consolidate things. It would be a foundation for change but not scary change. It would prove once and for all Labour could be trusted with the books.

Other ministers rather undermined Ardern's chill-pill attempts.

17 May, 2018 4:13am
3 minutes to read

Labour's Andrew Little tweeted a Labour Party video clip that featured highlights of Labour budgets of yore back to 1939 when free maternity care was brought in.

It featured the expensive "change" Budgets, such as those which brought us universal student allowances, ACC, and Working for Families.

It was admittedly somewhat selective.

There was a gap in the chronology where Labour's 1958 Black Budget should have been.

That was when Labour had no money for its election promises so it hiked taxes on beer, tobacco, cars and petrol (did someone say petrol tax hikes?).

That Budget also lost Labour the next election.

The Rogernomics years in the 1980s were also missed, another repressed memory.

Undaunted, Little's tweet ended with a string of emoji.

There were hands waving in the air. There was a dollar sign, a love-struck smiley face, a heart and then a woman doing the tango. Was it to be the Love Budget? Were we excited yet?

It was nonetheless more impressive than National's social media game.

National had warmed up for all the numbers in the Budget by counting how many reviews, working groups and panels Labour had set up.

To illustrate this, it put out a picture of Ardern's head photoshopped on to a woman winning a running race.

A pot-bellied Winston Peters was at her shoulder and then Green co-leader Marama Davidson.

It was baffling. Was it an allusion to National's 2017 campaign ad featuring National Party runners and Labour-NZ First-Green runners? Had it forgotten who actually won that race?

National had more luck with another pre-Budget tradition of the Opposition: scaremongering.

National leader Simon Bridges declared the Budget had sent business confidence crumpling, would send half the country's workforce on strike and the other half to Australia to get tax cuts and cheaper petrol.

KiwiBuild was a flop! There would not be as many extra Police as promised!

This is also something of a landmark Budget for National. It is the first Budget without stalwarts Sir John Key, Steven Joyce and Bill English.

They were gone in body but not in words.

National's Simon Bridges gave his pre-emptive judgemnt of the Budget, saying without knowing what was in it that Labour had "no plan."

He kindly provided one for them, saying the plan was "tax and spend, borrow and hope".

Bridges' choice of slogan itself was borrowed. He had borrowed it from Bill English who used it against Labour in the 2011 election.

English in turn had borrowed it from Sir Robert Muldoon, who applied it to the Labour Government of the mid 1970s.

Given NZ First appears to reap the lion's share of the spare cash in the Budget, the Green Party can at least take some solace from knowing the Budget has turned Bridges into a recycler.