Memo to Bill English: Election year is this year, not next year.

English's cruisy start to the week suggests he has forgotten that.

He ditched the regular Prime Minister's media spots on a Monday morning, designed by Prime Ministers past to set the news agenda, on the grounds it was Auckland Anniversary day.

That allowed opposition parties to fill the news vacuum and call for some leadership from English in responding to Donald Trump's shocking directives aimed at refugees from the most desperate of war-torn countries and which discriminate against Muslims.

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The Prime Minister's only response (much later) was to say that the Foreign Minister would be responding.

English's first item of business was the Karaka yearling sales and there's nothing wrong with that.

The sale of horse-flesh is a thrill and still cheaper than Auckland real estate. Lot 181 sold for a mere $450,000 and was "an absolute bargain" said one onlooker.

Karaka was an important annual event for John Key and Helen Clark. But it was almost a five-hour appointment for English. In election year.

He strolled around the sales with the urgency of a teenager with a tea towel, not a new Prime Minister in election year with a busy agenda.

English bumped into Brendon McCullum, now a cricketing horse-breeder rather than a horse-breeding cricketer. But that was a private encounter. English needs public encounters.

It was New Zealand First leader Winston Peters who got the photo ops with the horse breeders.

When English finally spoke to the news media about an issue that has horrified New Zealanders, the best he could do was to say he "disagreed" with the Trump move and that is was "discrimination."

More astonishing than the flaccid response was English's insistence that it amounted to criticism of the US policy.

English was slow to respond to an issue causing anguish around the world and his response was inadequate.

For the first time in a while, Labour and the Greens look sharper and more focused than National.

Andrew Little in his state of the nation said New Zealand had a new Prime Minister but not a leader.

English came close to proving him right yesterday.