There are some advantages to coming second and National Party leader Simon Bridges benefited from one this week.

On Monday at Waitangi, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked to list the articles of the Treaty of Waitangi and stumbled, needing prompting. It is hardly something she will be hung, drawn and quartered for, but she was clearly frustrated at being caught on the hop.

National Party leader Simon Bridges was not asked the same question until the next day. He reeled them off in merry fashion before he was interrupted by a journalist asking if he'd put himself through a refresher course as recent, say, as the night before when he saw the PM on the news.


Bridges grinned and conceded that may have been the case.

Bridges' attendance at Waitangi on Tuesday was the first time a National leader has made the visit since 2015.

Few went to NZ First MP Shane Jones' annual party - regulars Mark Mitchell and Todd McClay were dispatched to keep up cordial relations while others went to Dame Jenny Shipley's house for a catch-up instead.

Nor did Bridges bother hanging around Waitangi for Waitangi Day itself.

There was little point.

On the controversy front, Bridges was overshadowed by a former National Party leader (Don Brash) and a Bishop (Brian Tamaki). On the humour front, he was overshadowed by Jones.

Even at the best of times for an Opposition, there is very little attention on the Leader of the Opposition at Waitangi.

That is particularly the case when your rival is managing to pull off a convincing mash-up of Whitney Houston's Greatest Love of All and Stinky Wizzleteats' Happy Happy Joy Joy song.

It is a day for the Prime Minister to be held to account, for better or for worse. And at this juncture, things are still very much at the "better" end of that scale for Ardern.


So there were biblical scenes of feeding the masses, albeit with bacon butties rather than loaves and fishes. There was talk of children, of building bridges, and other cliches.

So Bridges returned to his home electorate of Tauranga to mark the day and prepare for the first of National's caucus meetings of the year. The caucus "retreat" in Hamilton begins today.

That will see National's 55 MPs closeted away for talks. Policy will take up the first day, and campaign strategies the second.

It will be the first event for new MP Agnes Loheni and the first public outing for MP Sarah Dowie since she was named in relation to a text received by the Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross, a text which is under police investigation.

There is a guest speaker in Australian MP Julie Bishop, the former Foreign Minister who quit after Malcolm Turnbull was rolled.

There will be some reflection on the year past - but Bridges has already tried to stymie any talk of disunity, starting the year by announcing a new tax policy in his first major speech last week.

That ensured he started the year talking about something other than Jami-Lee Ross and his own leadership poll ratings. The large showing of National MPs alongside him at Waitangi - at least 20 - was also clearly aimed at trying to project the image of National as a stable force.

Bridges' speech was loosely dubbed his "State of the Nation" address, although it was deemed to fall short of that lofty status because it was businesslike rather than full of vision and wonder.

If Bridges suffers from struggling to deliver on the vision, Ardern has the opposite challenge waiting.

Ardern will move from Waitangi to her own "State of the Nation" speech on Friday. That will be before a business audience.

Ardern's goal in that first big set-piece speech will be to try to convince business leaders that her much-vaunted "wellbeing" Budget is more than the "woolly" talk it is dismissed as by her opponent.

To do that she will have to deliver more than simply the over-application of buzzwords such as "compassion" and "kindness" and "empathy". Businesses worry about bottom lines, about tax systems, about trade, about global ructions hitting New Zealand.

Ardern has some good figures to back her - not only the Crown accounts but also recent credit rating upgrades and surveys on the ease of doing business among them.

But in a year she has dubbed the Year of Delivery, some audiences will be looking for more than bacon butties.