Bill English goes back to rolling with the punches

By WARREN GAMBLE

Bill English lost the fight and gained a wider audience, but political planners say the impact on voters of his boxing foray will be neutral.

The National leader's baby face was marked by a black eye as he got back behind his parliamentary desk yesterday after losing a split decision to former university colleague Ted Clarke.

Mr English said his blood nose and bruises were not as painful as hits he suffered in training.

His decision to enter Thursday night's Fight for Life charity boxing event was spurred by the suicide of a teenage nephew five years ago. But it was also seen as part of an election- year makeover to help Mr English to connect with a wider audience.

It worked a treat with an appreciative fight crowd and yesterday with people in the street.

"Down the street in Wellington I must have got stopped 20 times," Mr English said. "They were saying, 'Good on you, great to see it', but a couple said, 'You did well not to get your head bashed in'."

Mr English said the event's profile had got him recognised by people who otherwise were not interested in politics, but that was not his motivation. At election time people would judge him on his political performance, not his punching ability.

Alliance president Matt McCarten agreed that voters would not be swung by Mr English's swings.

He said that as a political ploy the fight was risky because images of Mr English hitting the canvas could have haunted him in the election leadup.

There was also a risk of turning off women voters, but this would be balanced by a wider appreciation of him among working-class men as a good bloke.

"I think it's probably neutral. It's not going to change people's votes.

"But really, haven't we moved on from two blokes trying to damage each other?" Mr McCarten asked.

It has been a week of political contrast between "Raging" Bill English and Helen Clark, who returned from Samoa after delivering another official apology.

Yesterday, an irritated Prime Minister refused to get into a debate over her saying sorry, but said there were no more apologies planned.

Mr English has no plans for a competitive career but said: "I guess I could get used to 2000 people chanting my name if it happened often enough."

* The latest poll has another uppercut for National - down two points to 29 per cent.

The NBR poll out yesterday has Labour up two points to 53 per cent and the Greens up nearly two points to 7.2 per cent.

The poll would allow Labour to govern alone.

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