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Momentum now with Labour — and the pressure is on National

Opinion Piece

Labour finds itself in the ascendancy for the first time in more than a decade after last night’s TVNZ leaders debate, thanks to a poll that put it ahead of National and a satisfactory debate performance from its new leader Jacinda Ardern.

The stunning poll result, released just before the debate, was an elephant in the room — although both leaders were quick this morning to say they are not taking anything for granted.

Many observers feel Bill English was a narrow winner in the debate, remaining poised and seeming to have a better grasp of detail. But all Ardern had to do was not make any mistakes and, in keeping with her sure-footed leadership of the past four weeks, she did just what was needed. She might even have gone further, by debating strongly and retaining the pleasant, positive personality that has become her hallmark.

This was no Trump vs Clinton type of debate, with both leaders maintaining a civil, polite approach and referring to each other by their first names.

English tried to score points by mentioning the word taxes as often as possible, including his much-used line that Labour’s policies would cost a freezing worker at Horotiu $1000 a year.

Ardern was able to focus on two subjects that hurt National, house affordability and homelessness.

Moderator Mike Hosking remained generally neutral throughout, though petitioners against the conservative commentator’s involvement did not scare him from adding a little drama, such as his direct question to English “Why are you losing?”

In fact, nobody is really losing yet. English’s comment today that it is a drag race between the two main parties is a good description of where the election contest is at with 22 days left.

But the momentum is now with Labour, ahead in the polls for the first time in 11 years, and the pressure is on National and English. He and Ardern will square off again in an all-important final debate on September 20.

Next up is a multi-party leaders debate on September 8, bringing together the potential coalition partners of the major parties.