After a horror-show three weeks, the Government appears to have wobbled back on course, thanks to the Budget. For a while there with Paula Bennett and Christine Rankin, Melissa Lee and the whole of South Auckland, Waterview and Mt Albert, the Supercity and the hikoi, it looked like trouble came in pairs for an increasingly beleaguered National Party.

Early indications are, apart from hardcore Labour voters, the public has shrugged and generally given Bill English the thumbs up for delivering the best Budget he could in the midst of an international recession. The Government was keen to avoid anyone using the words "black" and "budget" in the same breath and it largely achieved that goal, although the Herald did call it "grey".

English paints a picture of a bleak decade ahead, even if Treasury is forecasting a return to economic growth early next year. He avoided Ruth Richardson's mistake in her Budget in the early 90s when she slashed benefits and worsened an already bad situation.

He resisted the temptation of his predecessor, Michael Cullen, and did not simply throw money at the economy by drastically increasing government spending. He seems to have steered a sensible middle course.

It left Labour sounding like whingers. Phil Goff castigated National for freezing contributions to the Cullen Fund.

Yet what else was English to do? If I can no longer afford to put aside money in my savings account I would be nuts to borrow the money from the bank to prop up that savings account.

The Cullen Fund was designed to soak up surpluses. If there is no surplus, then there is nothing left to go into the fund.

Labour squealed about broken promises over the Government scrapping its tax cuts. Yet does anyone seriously believe a Labour government, in these circumstances, would have delivered tax cuts? Should Bill English have further reduced the Government's already fast-shrinking tax take? That would have meant even bigger cuts in Government services and more pain for those on lower incomes.

Labour argues that with forecasts saying the jobless could rise to around 90,000 in the next two years the Government should have set up more skills training programmes to help the unemployed find work. This tends to overlook the fact that you could churn out 90,000 new PhDs but, while our international markets are contracting, there won't be any jobs for them.

If we talk about political parties being fuelled by ideas, then Labour is running on empty.

Having delivered the only Budget it could in the circumstances, the Government now needs to clean up the mess it left behind over the past month. Keeping Melissa Lee out of the headlines will help.

I suspect the Greens may do National a favour in the Mt Albert byelection and take a sizeable chunk of the Labour vote, meaning Lee will not lose by too embarrassing a margin. If the Government can keep Rankin quiet, that little fiasco will fade in the public's mind. The Supercity plan continues to tick like a small time bomb and the Government will probably have to back down in its opposition to Maori seats on the council.

The Maori protest movement has become a focus point for opposition to the Supercity, but if the Government relents and allows separate Maori representation, the forces ranged against the plan will again fragment.

In the wider scheme of things, these issues are relatively minor. This is an administration new to office and there would always be teething problems as ministers grappled with their unfamiliar roles. However, it is important for National to start looking less trouble-prone and more competent.

The success of the Budget gives it the chance to set a steadier course. With the wily Michael Cullen gone, it will have an easier run in the House. Cullen's encyclopaedic knowledge of the arcane rules of Parliament and his gift for strategy often left National looking hapless. Since his departure, the balance has swung back in the Government's favour.

While most of the public have little or no interest in parliamentary debates and questions like "Who won Question Time?" the journalists in the Gallery do. They are opinion-makers and if they think the Government is making an ass of itself, that impression of incompetence comes through in their news coverage and commentaries.

As long as it makes no more major blunders National can concentrate on the real issues, like delivering us an electricity market that works and gives us fairer power prices. That is the kind of issue that will deliver votes in the next election and ensure that it is more than just a one-term Government.