Claire Trevett on politics

Claire Trevett is a Herald political writer

Claire Trevett: Leaders draw swords in clash of the Scrooges

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Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Janna Dixon
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Janna Dixon

Ushering John Key towards the door of a Hobbit hole set in a Matamata hillside last week, Sir Peter Jackson pondered aloud as to what enticements might lie within.

"How nice it would be to find hot scones and a cup of tea," he said, but as Key swung open the door, Sir Peter checked: "Nope, just a bank of dirt."

Voters would be forgiven for feeling the same way about the election campaign. The same outward trappings are there: billboards, leaflets, protesters and, tonight, the first head-to-head debate between National's Key and Labour leader Phil Goff.

But there are no warm scones and tea - National and Labour are in a battle of trying to out-Scrooge each other to show how economically responsible they are.

Instead of pinatas of policy lollies, most parties have found other ways to draw attention to the campaign.

For Labour it was by not even launching their campaign. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters recycled the endorsement that singer John Rowles gave him in 2008.

For National, Key engineered a Rugby World Cup win, then embarked on a trip to Hobbiton. Sir Peter stopped short of giving Key his endorsement, but he did say he would cast Key as a farmer - "growing carrots and potatoes and other nice Hobbity things" - and thanked the PM for coming to his rescue when Warner Bros was looking to move filming out of New Zealand.

Alas, things have not turned out so well for Labour on the celebrity front. Lord Ernest Rutherford's great-niece Mary complained about the use of a $100 replica bill with his face on a Labour leaflet. Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe grumbled when Labour used the airline's koru in an advertisement opposing asset sales.

So Labour took the only option left - scaling the moral high ground, tut-tutting about Key's lack of gravitas.

But Goff appeared to forget the Left Testicle 101 lesson of 2005. That year, National leader Don Brash went slightly off message trying to explain candidate Bob Clarkson's predilection for saying, "I bet my left testicle".

This time around, Goff took it upon himself to claim he had "more balls" than Key. Pushed further, Goff would not clarify whether Key had just the one or if he himself had extra.

For solace, voters need look no further than the universe inhabited by minor parties.

There are apparently no such inconveniences as deficits and economic downturns in Manaton, where the subjects have been promised $1000 cash as a Christmas treat, $32 million to feed the children and the abolition of GST.

Maori Partyville has even applied inflation to several of its long-standing policies: the call to lift the minimum wage to $15 an hour has gone up to $16, with the added bonus that it outbids Mana, Labour and the Greens.

No tax will be paid on income up to $25,000. All food will be GST exempt and in Manaton and Maori Partyville, superannuation will kick in at 60.

A similar affliction struck in the land of New Zealand First, where tax cuts would be paid for by multimillionaires and SuperGold Card holders would get discounted power bills, doctors' bills and car registration.

It all sounds rather like something J.R.R. Tolkien might dream up.

Polling update

The gap between the two big parties has closed slightly in the first week of the campaign, according to a 3News-Reid Research poll.

National's support fell 5.1 points to 52.3 per cent while Labour's rose 3.6 to 30.2 per cent - taking the gap to 22 points, compared with 30 a month ago. Prime Minister John Key was selected by 52.3 per cent as the preferred PM - a slight drop - while Labour's Phil Goff rose slightly to 9.8 per cent.

- NZ Herald

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