Winner: Jacinda Ardern
There wasn’t much between Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins in terms of both performance and policy.
Collins had a bigger challenge. She needed to do enough to win back the National voters who have found comfort in Ardern’s leadership over Covid. She didn’t do enough. But it is difficult to imagine Simon Bridges, Todd Muller or any other National MP could have done any better.
Ardern directed her final pitch to viewers specifically at that soft National support and has no doubt kept them for election 2020.
Ardern was convincing in her refusal to entertain a Greens wealth tax, despite the Green Party adding weight to Collins’ arguments this week that they would persist with it.
The debate lacked oomph. There were no new issues. Nothing was a surprise. It wasn’t a great contest. It would not have changed anybody’s mind. Collins said politics had to be entertaining. This didn’t cut it.
Labour to win an outright majority; Greens back, just; New Zealand First out, just; National and Act combined to make about 40 per cent, Māori Party to win an electorate seat.
Winner: Jacinda Ardern
Ardern started with a good core pitch while Collins got scoldy with the public trying to explain party votes. Then Ardern was reduced to listing minor progress on poverty and Collins nailed her response: “It’s got worse.”
But that was it, from her. They got bogged down in policy details, arguing about things that don’t really separate them (housing and poverty) and not much about things that do (climate change).
Ardern owned Collins twice. On the Greens’ wealth tax, she called Collins a “liar” and “desperate” and Collins had nothing. And she praised Collins for speaking up for gun control: it was clever knifework, dividing Collins from the incoming Act caucus.
Neither said anything wonderful. Collins was less interrupty but seemed to have run out of puff: she still hasn’t found the right way to be Judith Collins. Ardern’s got so much puff she’s floating on air. So she wins.
The parties on the right are struggling to hold 40 per cent of the votes, and I think they’ll split 30 to National and 9 to Act. The left has a few clicks over 50: perhaps Labour 46, Greens 6, also 1 seat for the Māori Party. All others: under 2.5 per cent.
Verdict: A draw
Whether the toll of the campaign or because they were seated instead of standing, the final debate delivered a more restrained Judith Collins than in previous debates. It resulted in something that was more of a conversation than the rambunctious debates earlier in the campaign.
That gave Jacinda Ardern room to showcase the Prime Ministerial persona, pushing her case for certainty and stability and making a direct pitch to undecided voters who had never voted for Labour before at the end. Collins also tilted to her strengths: her decisiveness and National’s record.
The fieriest segment came in the long-running clash over the Green Party’s wealth tax, but the debate also put more focus on the personal qualities of the two leaders.
Desperation breeds Captain’s calls, and it was notable Collins did not totally rule out going to NZ First if required to form a Government – instead restricting herself to saying National would not give Winston Peters whatever he wanted for the sake of power.
Labour will come close to a majority on election night but will not know for sure until specials are counted. Green Party will return. NZ First will just scrape through. Ardern will try to form a Government with both, but not in coalition.
Labour will take several National seats, including Wairarapa and Auckland Central. National will hold East Coast, Tukituki and Northland. Labour will hold Māori seats.
Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins were on their best behaviour in the final leaders’ debate on TV ONE.
Neither rocked the boat. It was a curiously passionless affair.
This election is done and dusted and both leaders know it.
Collins showed a disarmingly softer side of herself even as she spoke her “truth to power” about the economic tough times that lie ahead of New Zealand. Pity she did not show this earlier rather than her lamentably shrewish performance in the last debate.
Ardern was typically opaque when it came to her record on delivering on the issues she campaigned on in 2017 – child poverty, housing, economic transformation. Throughout the campaign she has smoothly glossed over over the fact that on these metrics her prime ministership has been a failure. Collins could not gain an admission that a future Governments would inevitably have to look to raise more revenue. If not wealth taxes, then what?
So to Saturday night – If the PM does not win the election she would of course stand down. Collins could not quite avoid Ardern’s silkily laid trap – in defeat she would stay on.
Who else has National got? And she’s right.
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