John Armstrong on politics

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Horror show may prove the defining moment

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Phil Goffand John Key. Photo / Getty Images
Phil Goffand John Key. Photo / Getty Images

Labour should be kicking itself, hard. Wednesday night's rout of Phil Goff by John Key could - with one large proviso - prove to be the defining moment of this election campaign.

That proviso is that the head-to-head debate organised by the Christchurch Press could only be watched online - not on television.

Nevertheless, there has been extensive media coverage of Goff's horror show. What is astonishing is that the Labour leader left himself so exposed on the crucial question of how Labour can claim it is able to fund its spending promises and still get the Budget back into surplus in the same 2014-15 financial year as National.

On Monday, Labour finance spokesman David Cunliffe parried questions by saying variously that the figures were "not far away" and would be released "in the near future".

Labour's election strategists were conscious of the party's vulnerability.

When Labour announced its capital gains tax in July, it released an accompanying table showing how much that and other tax changes would affect Government accounts.

Much to National's frustration, the figures (deliberately) offered only a partial picture.

National's lack of success in highlighting the gap may have lulled Labour into a false sense of security.

But Labour was ignoring two things. This is is a bread-and-butter election. National has persuaded people there is no money for any extra spending.

When it comes to getting back into surplus by 2014-15, there will be scepticism that even National would meet what Finance Minister Bill English concedes is a "challenging" target.

The other thing that Labour did not count on was Key. He made little mention of Labour's spending plans during Monday's leaders' debate.

Labour - basking in Goff's performance in that debate - may have thought it could hold off until today, thereby counting on the whole argument getting lost with the arrival of the weekend.

Instead, Key struck on Wednesday night, repeatedly demanding that Goff show him where the money was coming from.

Yesterday Labour was scrambling to reclaim lost ground. It is understood its figures have Labour increasing debt by just $3.5 billion over four years against the whopping $17 billion that National claims.

Labour will today argue that National has overestimated some costs, included policies which Labour has not announced and ignored the increased value of the New Zealand Superannuation Fund and the retention of dividends from Labour not partially privatising some state-owned enterprises.

The puzzle is why Goff did not have this information at his fingertips on Wednesday night.

On the trail

From Russia with Love: John Key lobbied the Government Communications Security Bureau to authorise Apple's iPhone for use by MPs. He said Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's President had one. They have BlackBerrys.

Political horsepower: Labour's Rangitikei candidate, Josie Pagani, will be travelling to streetcorner meetings by horseback.

They said it: "I would be really surprised if anyone in New Zealand recognises the commemoration of Guy Fawkes Day as a memorial to the infamous arsonist." - Tariana Turia, pledging to establish a Peace Week to honour the destruction of Parihaka in 1881.

- NZ Herald

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