COMMENT:

The timing of a threatened strike by Air NZ's engineers in the three days leading up to Christmas was calculated to create maximum damage.

While public sector workforces such as nurses and teachers need to try to keep public sympathy on side to help their cause, Air NZ workers do not have the same imperative.

The company they work for, on the other hand, does need to keep the public on side.

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In particular, a major shareholder of that company – the Government – does.

The Government, whether warranted or not, will cop some of the blame if those strikes go ahead.

Even as Air NZ went into mediation to try to avert the strikes, the damage was happening.

Twitter filled with stories of enraged people re-booking with other airlines and complaining that long-anticipated visits to or by visitors overseas were now at risk.

The shareholding Government was not happy, the airline was not happy and the punters most definitely were not happy.

The only happy party was the National Party.

Its MPs immediately sent out barrages of tweets about "militant" unions and a return to the 1970s.

National leader Simon Bridges went to Parliament to question Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern about the disruption, asking if it was because her government had "emboldened the unions".

Ardern pointed out the dispute was between the company and the engineers.

But she also effectively acknowledged concern the Government would be blamed, saying she had personally gone to both sides to flag her concern and urge them to resolve it.

National MPs have been rumbling all year about the seemingly never-ending conga line of groups threatening to strike, and sometimes going through with it.

It all fed National's narrative that the Labour-led Coalition Government was dragging the land back to the days of the 1970s, even before the legislation they claimed would do that was introduced.

In Opposition, bad news is often good news and Bridges needs as much of it as possible.

Labour has so far failed to deliver the kind of bad news National had hoped for on the economic front.

But the bad-news-that-is-good-news menu is also set to include the ever increasing pile of social and moral issues lining up for MPs to vote on.

They include abortion, euthanasia, the legalisation of recreational cannabis and loosening the rules for trans people to change the gender recorded on their birth certificates.

In an interview with the NZ Herald over looming abortion reforms, Bridges warned Ardern that voter fatigue with moral issues would set in and the risk of divisiveness was high if care was not taken.

Labour will be well aware of that – it may explain why Ardern has declined several interview requests on abortion reforms.

Nor need anybody expect Bridges to rush into backing those reforms. Bridges' first job is to win over the National Party's own base.

Bridges preferred Prime Minister ratings rather show he has not that by dint of his personality.

The only options that remain are for him to do so by dint of policy and principle.

There is no point simply mirroring the Prime Minister in a bid to replicate her popularity.

Voters might not vote specifically for him, but they will not necessarily vote against him if the other options are not palatable and Bridges reflects their own stance on issues that matter to them.

So as Parliament voted to allow the wider use of medicinal cannabis products, Bridges was warning the result would be sick people smoking pot outside schools.

It was a ludicrous suggestion, especially given National's stance on medicinal cannabis is far more mature and nuanced than that.

Bridges' "decriminalisation by stealth" stance was aimed at National's core conservative base.

Then there is law and order. The murder of British backpacker Grace Millane did indeed horrify most New Zealanders.

Ardern's response – a very public admission of regret and shame that it happened in New Zealand – was aimed at an international audience more than domestic. It was widely aired across Britain.

It had the effect of highlighting just how rare such an event was that a nation's Prime Minister would pause to make comment on it.

As yet, there has been no politicising of that case by politicians. But it was one of seven killings over the past month.

Already on social media the "soft on crime" concerns are starting to run. That will only escalate as the case makes its way through the courts.

None of that will be helpful to a Government working on law and order reforms.