Stacey Kirk: Despots and lolly scrambles – how you know it's an election year
OPINION: Call it the trinity; the Budget in an election year, with a surplus.
So no pressure on first-time Budget deliverer, Finance Minister Steven Joyce. When he unveils the Government's books on Thursday, it's expected to be a starkly different beast to what came in 2014.
This is a third-term Government, vying for the rare fourth. And where "strong and stable" was the mantra then, "strong, stable and cashed up" may as well be now.
And on the opposing benches come the catch-cries; "this is a third-term Government bereft of ideas". Ideas typically cost money, so you know both sides will be looking to spend.
What do you know – the Government's Budget surplus has come along to the party, jumping out to nearly $1.5 billion – more than $1.3b ahead of forecast.
So sit back and brace for treating, because the election campaign is coming. Here are just some of the hints it may have already started:
HOLD OUT YOUR CANDY BAGS
And fire up the helicopter. The great Kiwi lolly-scramble is about to begin.
When Joyce reveals his Budget, it won't just contain some major headline grabbing new initiatives. The journalists poring over the documents in the lockup before it's released, will also be looking for the treasure chest.
That is, the cache of funds locked away – assigned, but easily divertible – to unveil further new policies as the September 23 election date draws near.
And this works both ways, don't forget. While the Government has the advantage in knowing exactly how much money there is to cost their policies, the ranks will close once Opposition parties get to take a look at the accounts as well.
I'M READY FOR MY CLOSE-UP
The faces are powdered, the lashes are looking suspiciously volumised and party leaders are primped and primed for any unexpected camera appearance.
Labour leader Andrew Little can't give a standup without full Labour branding behind him, and Prime Minister Bill English's drink of water before he starts each post-Cabinet press conference is getting longer by the week (lest that trademark southern drawl turn into a croak).
THAT'S AN EPIC TROLL
When English said of British comedian John Oliver last week: "Some of the stuff I've seen he does isn't very funny", it was clearly a troll.
"Put me on your show," English dared. "Raise my profile, give tourism a boost, give my social media platforms a push."
It worked a treat.
Oliver's show, Last Week Tonight, usually averages a season gross audience of 5.6 million viewers – more than the population of New Zealand. And a lot of New Zealand watches it – accustomed as we are to being the butt of jokes.
But when one of the greatest levellers occurred the second former PM John Key packed it in, the biggest confidence boost for Opposition MPs was they no longer had to compete with his sense of celebrity.
Make no mistake, it was a vote-winner. For the Government, the obvious remedy is to boost English's celebrity, and their social media team have been heard to be called geniuses, this past week, by their Opposition counterparts.
THEY SAID WHAT?
And for the party leaders who aren't running a country – what do they do? John Oliver is hardly going to take notice of them.
Unless of course, they start making outlandish statements, like Trump is the worst leader since Hitler. Green Party co-leader James Shaw may have gotten a bit excited when he reached for that assertion; forgetting about Pol Pot, Pinochet and Bashar al-Assad.
A backtrack rightly came, and perhaps an assessment that there's a happy-medium to be achieved when sifting around for a soundbite. But others will fall into the same trap.
There's a palpability in the hallways of Parliament; the metaphorical whiff of gunpowder.
So let's take the time to breathe a bit this Sunday; because this election is shaping up to be a marathon.
- Sunday Star Times