Parliament resumes this week after the three week winter recess with a huge Select Committee agenda and new polling showing National and Act slightly closing the gap on Labour and the Greens.

This has been a recess like few others with almost no Ministers in Wellington for three weeks.

Select Committees did not meet at all.

But what is clear is that while the politicians have mostly been on holiday, the political mood is shifting.

Two polls over the weekend contain warnings signs for Labour and suggest the gloss may be starting to come off.

The Prime Minister and her Cabinet, however, are returning rom holiday with a strategy which will put a heavy emphasis on not only setting out a Covid recovery path but broadening the political agenda beyond Covid into issues like immigration and the response to climate change.

Labour is not under an yserious threat from National; nevertheless there are some warning signs in the two polls.

Weekend polling
Roy MorganChange/JuneNewshubChange/May
Labour39.5+143-9.7
Greens10-2.58.51.4
Centre Left49.5-1.551.5-8.3
National29-0.528.71
ACT13+1.511.14.2
Centre Right42+1.039.85.2
Maori2.501.92.5
NZ First3.4

Both the Roy Morgan poll and the Newshub Reid polls show a drop in Labour’s support – but that support is not going to National.

Instead the big winner is ACT and to a lesser extent, the Greens.

The gap between the centre right and the centre let is still large; 7.5 per cent in Roy Morgan; 11.7 in Newshub.

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The standout feature of Morgan’s poll is the widening gender gap between the two groupings.

Women vastly prefer Labour; 46.5 per cent versus the 25.5 per cent would who vote for National whereas male voters are split evenly between National and Labour.

Roy Morgan July Poll
TotalChange/ JuneMaleFemale
Labour39.5+132.546.5
Greens10-2.5812
Centre Left49.5-1.540.558.5
National29-0.532.525.5
ACT13+1.517.58.5
Centre Right42+1.05034
Maori2.502.52.5

Michele Levine, CEO of Roy Morgan, said a huge gender gap had opened up in New Zealand politics.

“The trends are confirmed by the latest Roy Morgan Government Confidence figures which show 59% of Women say New Zealand is ‘heading in the right direction’ compared to 52% of men and only 29% of Women say New Zealand is ‘heading in the wrong direction’ compared to 40% of men,” she said.

Though both main parties have female leaders, the gender divide is more visible in the number of female MPs in each party; Labour has 39 women in its 65 person caucus while National has only 11 in its 33 MP caucus.

However National’s pollster, David Farrar, put the gap down to the popularity among women of the Prime Minister.

He  wrote in a blog at the weekend that overall National/ACT was ahead of Labour/Greens by 10 per cent amongst men but trailed  by 25 per cent amongst women.

“The key to a change of Government will be if the two parties can reduce the gap amongst women so it is the same size or smaller as their lead with men,” he wrote.

“That is a big challenge as Ardern has huge personal popularity with many women.”

But Jacinda Ardern is going to have to battle her way through some complex and contentious policy moves over the rest of the year.

The Government sees three big issues as central to its fortunes over the next six months; the future management of Covid, the health reforms and its response to the Climate Change Commission.

At the same time Ministers know they need to address immigration settings and labour shortages in key industries.

Ardern is expected to announce changes desigbned to allow more people to come in this week.

She will unveil the new new Covid strategy on August 12 with a strategy which will  draw on the work of the Strategic Covid-19 Public Health Advisory Group chaired by Sir David Skegg which was set up in April.

One of their core tasks was to give advice on the relationship between population coverage with vaccination and the epidemiological impacts of Covid (should the borders reopen).

Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said when it was set up that it would give advice on issues such as how much of the population needed  to be vaccinated before our border settings could be relaxed , evidence for transmission blocking properties of the vaccine, strategic public health controls when the borders reopened and public health responses to any new variants that weren’t  covered by current vaccine options.

Health Minister Andrew Little is also expected to shortly announce more detail on the health reforms, particularly related to funding.

Meanwhile this week Parlaiment’s Environment Committee begins work on its inquiry into the proposed Natural and Built Environments Bill which will replace the Resoruce Management Act.

The inquiry will lead to the drafting of the Bill for introduction into the House early next year.

There will be a question whether the prime Minister herself will attend the UN COP 26 conference in Edinburgh at the end of October.

Certainly New Zealand will need to have its response to the Climate Change Commission carbon budgets sorted out before that conference.

All of this adds up to a change of focus for the Cabinet.

Of course the inner Cabinet — Ardern, Grant Robertson, Chris Hipkins and Megan Woods — have been pre-occupied  with Covid over the past 18 months but now the focus will be on a broader range of issues.

Labour will hope that National, under Judith Collins, will be more likely to make gains by taking support away from ACT rather than winning votes from acros the aisle and Labour.

The Morgan poll’s figures on the gender gap would tend to support that hope.

So, in a sense politics, will go down into the trenches fro the six months with debate centred on policy and its implementation.