Is this the Budget that will give National a fourth term?

That’s the question that the big childcare support package immediately provokes.

And it was one being suggested by Government officials at the Budget lockup.

The  Government’s strategy is simple — and it’s the same that inspired the weekend housing tax moves — try and occupy Labour’s ground and force them to move to their left to provide an alternative.

It’s straight out of the Crosby Textor playbook and has been made easier for National by Labour’s decision to spend a year relying on attack politics while it reviews all its policies.

And National is also plainly intending to play the tax cut card first proposed by the prime Minister during the last election campaign. .

The Finance Minister, Bill English, has allowed $1 billion for the cuts in 2017, election year.

Both Mr English and the Prime Minister were playing that down today.

Mr Key said the Government was taking a cautious approach.

“The options were there to put $1.5 billion into every year,” he said.


But you can see how challenging the conditions are so we’ve taken the conservative approach.

“We’d like to get to tax cuts in 2017 — the economic resources are technically there as surpluses rise but Treasury find it pretty hard to forecast numbers for us within a few months so three years is a long way.”

But this Budget has given the Government some political headroom.

Even senior Opposition MPs were surprised by the extent of the welfare moves.

And the Government apparently wanted to do more.

One Minister said they had initially looked at indexing benefits to the average wage the same way New Zealand Superannuation payments are.

But the fiscal cost of that would have been prohibitive.

It was no wonder though that the prime Minister’s Budget debate speech was a tub thumping affair which had the Government benches clapping and whooping with delight.

Labour Leader Andrew Little who made a spirited attack on the Budget — or “fudge-it” —as he called it criticising its “robbing Peter to pay Paul” economics.

But he rhetorically fell over when he mistakenly referred to a person who had contacted Labour about their economic plight as Jean Simmons immediately invoking images of the Kiss rock singer with the massive tongue.

Perhaps surprisingly Mr Little did not make more of the big fish hook in the benefit programme which will see families who earn a combined income over $88,000 be subject to a cut in their Working for Families payments.

But like the Kiwisaver cuts and the border levies these are cuts which don’t affect the materially deprived.

Given that the last time National made a major adjustment to benefit rates were the Ruth Richardson cuts of 1991, today was a measure of just how much John Key has moved National to the centre ground of New Zealand politics.

And how much he is squeezing Labour out at the same time.