Now the messages out of Wellington are mixed, confusing. And they are compounding the aura of dismay spreading through the electorate.
Even the feel-good factor supposed to follow the start of the Families Package looks frozen on the ground, as the regressive impact of the regional fuel tax hits low-income working families in Auckland hard.
Instead of a collegial coalition, individual ministers are acting as loose cannon. Kelvin Davis manages to put a foot in his mouth every time he opens it, Phil Twyford sounds like an old-time preacher, David Parker has fumbled as Minister of Everything, and even Grant Robertson – who says he talks to business “every day, every week” – doesn’t appear to understand the pressures on employers.
There doesn’t seem to be any coherent plan or strategy. Each Minister seems to be a silo. Almost every day there is another stuff up story.
Instead of radical “transformative” policies, the coalition has produced a handful of contradictory measures: a $1bn regional development “pot” at the same time as signalling the end of oil exploration and development, a pillar of the Taranaki regional economy.
Other examples include the winter electricity payment, which will cost taxpayers about $1.8bn over the next four years. This goes to everyone over the age of 65, from struggling working-class widows to billionaires.
Labour are spending ten times as much on middle class welfare as they are on actually helping poor struggling families.
A PR machine at the top of its game couldn’t make anything out of the inchoate thrashing within the Beehive. Only with a clear, practical and progressive narrative can the government re-establish its forward momentum.
Ardern, returning from maternity leave at the end of the month, will not find it easy to get her coalition back on message.
Their problem isn’t PR. It is a lack of leadership and direction.