Morgan Godfery
Morgan Godfery is a law student and former Labour staffer

Morgan Godfery: Key out in front but no easy ride

Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Labour is playing a strong game, but this week belongs to Key and National. Thanks to two strong showings in the leaders' debates, the Prime Minister has stolen the ball from the opposition, despite a brilliant opening play by Labour on policy.

But if you think Key is going to make light work of this election, think again.

Last week Labour revealed its plans to raise the retirement age to 67. The announcement came out of left field. Leaving aside the merits of the idea, the announcement was a brilliant opening play.

Labour can't confront this election on John Key's terms, meaning Phil Goff can't engage in a presidential-style contest. The party is strong as a team and strong on policy and has to direct political discourse towards policy.

National's strongest asset is Key, but the party falls on policy and depth of talent.

This showed in its attempt to reclaim the policy agenda by announcing the reintroduction of youth wages. But the idea was a bit of an own goal.

The commentariat largely ignored the policy, while the public hardly seemed excited. A friend once pointed out that Maori unemployment rates are twice the national average, but you would not make it law to pay Maori less for equal work - that would be racist. The same principle applies to youth rates - equal pay for equal work. Anything less is discriminatory.

However, John Key and National came back to form in the first leaders' debate on TVNZ.

Phil Goff was strong on attack, but Key managed to fend him off and score a points victory. Despite what others on the left are saying, Key won. He won because he won over the crowd, read the voters and, as the saying goes, the voters are never wrong even when they're wrong.

Key and National took the fight to Labour with their welfare plans. The policy was received well by the public, but the left pointed out the obvious: you can't compel people to find jobs that don't exist.

Under National there are 154,000 unemployed and fewer jobs. Remember the thousands of people queuing for only a 100 or so supermarket jobs in South Auckland and Hamilton?

And then there was that second debate in Christchurch. Goff was on top of Key for most of the night, but the PM managed to smash Goff and score under the posts after highlighting the fact that under Labour there will be a $14 billion budget shortfall.

In response Goff couldn't produce the figures. Absolutely unacceptable this late in the game.

In the most irrelevant stunt so far, Green co-leader Russel Norman went swimming with sharks to draw attention to, I think, shark fins.

Winston Peters also made a powerful play for the agenda announcing his plans for hard labour for greedy corporates. This is Winston at his best - no-nonsense policy.

The Maori Party also appealed to their constituents announcing they will support asset sales on the condition the assets are sold to iwi. In my opinion, the party may have just signed its own death sentence. Mana is managing to run off the momentum of their new star Clinton "Hurricane" Dearlove, who came out of nowhere and blitzed the field in Maori TV's Te Tai Tonga debate.

Act remains irrelevant and is struggling for air.

Morgan Godfery is a law student and former Labour staffer. He blogs on Maori issues at

- NZ Herald

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