by Tim Watkin

Do the sums and read between the lines, and it looks like something has to give in this year's budget. And I think I know what it may be...

So Bill English hasn't dropped enough pounds... or, at least, dollars. Weight loss is the metaphor Bill English has chosen to excuse his failure to meet the government oft-repeated and top priority of reaching surplus by 2015-16. That's right, it's sayonara surplus.

English's explanation run along these lines:

John Key's hair-pulling raises questions about just what kind of player he is, and his interview on The Nation reveals a worrying lack of judgement and understanding of power

John Key's pony-tail-gate controversy seems to have divided people into two camps. The vast bulk of New Zealanders (to purloin a Key-ism) can agree on the fact that it's weird... and out of order. But then there are those who shrug it off and say things like "no-one died, he was just being a dick" and "he didn't mean anything cruel by it".

Most New Zealanders think they've seen the back of legal highs (outside the black market), but the fact is they will be back one day... but the politics is fascinating

Matt Bowden has a grand plan. The godfather of legal highs in New Zealand, he's been talking for a few years now about his determination to make this country famous for its safe, regulated and profitable recreational drugs culture.

Is the Northland by-election pothole just a flat tyre for National or is it a sign this political vehicle is running out of gas? Here are two things to keep an eye on once Winston's tempest has passed

So what does it all mean? Maybe something, maybe nothing. While we know the result in Northland and the unique weather patterns that merged to create Cyclone Winston, it's impossible to yet know whether National can blow those clouds away or whether more rain is on the horizon.

National really is pulling out all the stops in Northland... they could hardly be doing more to help Winston Peters win

Try as they might, National seems to be turning every Northland fencepost into a losing one at the moment. For a party with such a strong campaigning record, it seems to be playing into Winston Peters' hands at every turn.

Labour is in a bit of a pickle, but by opening the door for Winston is making life harder for National and ensuring and a close race in the North

Why does Labour keep ending up in these sort of tangles? From Judith Tizard through to Northland at the moment, Labour often ends up with some tricky calls come by-election time.

I've wrestled with this for days and part of me still wishes we could give peace more of a chance, but the limited and precise deployment chosen by the government seems to be the right choice for the time and threat

Watching the news with my five year-old last week, he was asking about sending soldiers to Iraq. He listened to my school-boy appropriate summation and said, "weeeelll, I don't like to shoot people, but on the other hand I do like to help, so..."

Like many New Zealanders, he was torn over exactly how to meet the threats posed by Islamic State and trailed off without a conclusion.

John Key has put a time limit on our stay in Iraq, but Australia isn't impressed with that kind of thinking, showing the Wellington-Canberra divide on Iraq

John Key and Tony Abbott were putting a brave face on it today, with talk of the countries' "long, strong and intimate partnership", but on Iraq the cracks are showing.

Andrew Little has wandered off message a bit recently, and as parliament starts needs to give himself a stern talking to if he's serious about earning the trust of middle New Zealand

Politicians are always walking on a cliff's edge. They are one misstep away from disaster. Or at least a twisted ankle or a bit of a fright. Andrew Little in his first few months as Labour leader has seemed as sure-footed as a mountain goat, but heads into the House today needing to remember where the path is.

The rules were pretty clear and the ethnic sports tournament hardly unprecidented, so why the fuss about the Maori Basketball tournament? Is this Waitangi fever?

There's nowt like a wee ethnic bun-fight to kick-off Waitangi weekend, and it's been delivered this year by a pakeha basketball coach who's been told his team can't go to the [basket]ball because he's not Maori. Cue outrage.