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Leaders debate looked like an interview but it drew the viewers

Opinion Piece

Last night’s final leaders debate was something of a damp squib with neither Jacinda Ardern nor the Prime Minister really able to score a major telling point in a format that made it look more like a joint interview than a real clash.

Ardern had gone in on the back of a poll showing National rising suddenly to be in front again, up six percentage points to 46 while Labour was down seven. While an increasing number are doubting the accuracy of the landline based polls, it was not the background she would have wanted.

Some commentators said afterwards that Ardern looked rattled at times. Labour supporters won’t accept that, believing that her responses showed that she genuinely cared.

But English’s experience did show through again particularly on his vulnerable points — the housing crisis and the so called billion-dollar gap in Labour’s budget that only he and Steven Joyce seem to believe in.

Overall National’s tactic of focusing on Labour’s taxation policy seem to have worked. Ardern herself appeared to realise that, describing the criticism on more than one occasion as unfair.

But the young pretender has made her mark both here and abroad, with the BBC news webpage carrying an article on her yesterday. She brought a breath of fresh air to what was previously a rather dull contest but in some ways the seven-week campaign may have been a little too long. It gave National precious time in which to absorb the impact of Jacindamania and respond.

While this debate lacked real fire, the televised debates have all attracted audiences around the one million mark. That may be food for thought for the television channels that have been moving away from programmes with any political focus or relegating them to places like Sunday morning.

With more than 20 percent of people having already voted before last night’s debate began, their significance, like that of the polls, may be a little questionable. But the viewer numbers suggest a large number of people want to see the prospective leaders challenged.