The problem in the popularity contest that is politics is that, sooner or later, you have to make decisions and someone is not going to like them. The trick is to annoy fewer people than you please.

So far the Government has achieved that very well. You just have to look at the readers' polls on most news websites, like the daily one on

Yes, they are unscientific but they get thousands of people clicking their opinion and they are, at least, a good straw in the wind when judging the public mood.

I've yet to see one that doesn't back a Government stance, whether it be bringing back knighthoods or giving people greater freedom to chop down and trim trees on their own property.

National has found an unerring ability to plug into public sentiment.

Even when there has been an apparent reverse, such as minister Judith "Crusher" Collins' frustrated attempt to rid herself of Corrections boss Barry Matthews, most people seemed to sympathise with her, such is the public's scepticism of the corrections system.

By the way, her earlier expressed desire to crush the cars of boy racers also met overwhelming public favour, many expressing the wish to crush the offending vehicles with the mullet-headed drivers still inside.

Even when it comes to doing nothing some ministers do that very well. Health Minister Tony Ryall wisely ducked the row over the Auckland laboratory testing contract, preferring to let the city's DHB's stew in their own juice. It was their call to award the contract to another Australian-owned company and the Court of Appeal backed it.

ACC minister Nick Smith's public flogging of the commission will have won him more friends than enemies, apart from a few sacked board members.

As a journalist, over the course of my career, I have had more people come to me with complaints about ACC than any other state agency, even the Family Court, which attracts grumpily aggrieved folk like a magnet.

Actually, I'm one of those who currently view ACC with a jaundiced eye. As I run a tiny company writing columns like this one, I have just paid, under duress, an ACC bill the size of the price of a small second-hand car. The greatest risk of injury I face in this job is electrocution when I plug in my laptop or being bitten by a rabid politician. I suspect many self-employed people look at their ACC demands with similar loathing.

Smith's attendance at the transport and industrial select committee hearing with ACC chief executive Jan White provoked hysteria from Labour.

Opposition spokesman David Parker claimed Smith was a "gatecrasher" who was "bullying" and "gagging" ACC.

Frankly I think it was a great thing for democracy that a minister showed up at a select committee hearing of his department. They should all the time.

Too often in the past ministers in charge of controversial parts of the state sector have dived for cover, cowering in their Beehive offices, while select committees ripped apart the chairman of the board and senior public servants.

The minister should be just as accountable to a select committee as his minions.

If Parker felt Smith was gagging ACC's White he could always have insisted that she, not Smith, was required to give the answer.

The one area where the Government must tread warily is in issues affecting Auckland. This is where elections are won and lost. It will be the area worst hit by the recession. It already contains the biggest pockets of poverty and disadvantage.

Aucklanders tend to vote with their wallets, especially in the mortgage belt. If their disposable income falls and their homes are threatened they will rebel.

In the short term, Transport Minister Stephen Joyce's hint the coming 9.5 cent local petrol tax could be dropped will be popular with most Aucklanders who needed, like a hole in the head, another cost eating away at their wages.

In the longer term he still has the tough task of figuring out how to solve the city's other festering problem, unblocking its congested transport system.

A clue to that answer may lie in the release of the report by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Auckland Governance early next month.

Most Aucklanders don't believe they get value for money from their rates. Most suspect the local body structure of several warring city states is clumsy, inefficient and prevents effective regional infrastructural development.

The ARC's claim to be the answer that they are skilled regional managers is met with one word. Beckham.

If the Royal Commission and the Government get the new city proposal right, National can breathe easy.

Get it wrong and the Nats can expect a speedy return to opposition.