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Big week ahead for major parties in ‘drag race’ to election day

Opinion Piece

The drag race between National and Labour to lead the next government moves into an important stage this week.

With 20 days till the election, the major parties are virtually neck and neck after a new poll changed the lead slightly in favour of National. Both, but more so National, will be looking for something to give them the desperately-needed extra edge — starting possibly with the second leaders’ debate, moderated by Patrick Gower, on TV3 tonight.

This comes after a week of what looked like pork-barrel politics capped by two more policy announcements yesterday by Bill English and Jacinda Ardern.

National’s was a crackdown on gangs that would include the right to search the cars and homes of serious criminals without a warrant. “Westie” Paula Bennett was unapologetic, obviously expecting the outrage from civil libertarians. Coming on top of “boot camps” for youths, it shows a hardening stance by National aimed at conservative voters.

Ardern was right on target with Labour’s core support with a package of measures aimed at increasing the rights of renters. That was a shrewd move, with about half of New Zealanders including many Aucklanders now living in rental properties — the highest figure for decades.

All this came after a week in which the two leaders seemed to be trying to outdo each other’s promises.

National’s announcement of $18 doctor visits for low-income people was promptly topped by Labour with an $8 offer.

Then there was National’s announcement of 22 weeks paid parental leave, a little ironic in that the party vetoed a bill last year. Labour was quick to make its offer 26 weeks.

All this was on top of Labour’s biggie from last week — free tertiary education introduced progressively over three years.

The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll confirms this as the closest race in years, with National on 43.3 percent to Labour’s 39.4 and Ardern and English virtually tied as preferred prime minister. It should be an interesting week.