Key Points:

If there is a winner from this week's battle of the speeches, it is John Key.

Coming opinion polls will point to who really secured the spoils. For now, National's leader can claim a tactical victory over the Prime Minister thanks to sharp political acumen on the part of him and his advisers, plus a dose of good luck.

Key made the correct choice in making the tackling youth crime the major strand of his state-of-the-nation speech in Ellerslie on Tuesday. It is the issue of the moment. It is far more sexy politically than the major strand of Helen Clark's rival address in Waitakere yesterday - her $170 million plan for every teenager to stay in school or some other form of education or training until they are 18.

Clark clearly punted that the content of her competing speech would be a victory for substance over style when placed alongside the populist line Key was expected to pursue in his.

Her announcement is an example of the kind of "big idea" that she intends rolling out through election year to convince that Labour is revitalised and, despite eight years in power, is still a party with a vision - and a compelling one.

However, she would not have punted on Key complicating things by also canvassing the same territory of youth education and training as the minor strand of his speech and coming up with a similar-sounding policy.

This proved a minus and a plus for Clark. On the face of it, Key seemed to have gazumped her, if accidentally, neutralising the major thrust of her speech and allowing him to make the running with youth crime as the major strand of his.

The upside for Clark is a direct comparison can be made between her policy of raising the age at which teenagers can quit the education system and Key's "youth guarantee" which will enable 16- and 17-year-olds to get free access to training courses or further study if they leave school.

The compulsion central to Clark's plan makes hers the more likely to provide the quantum leap needed to upskill the workforce.

But having won that skirmish, Clark and Labour lost the overall battle. Her colleagues sought to belittle Key's suggested solutions to youth crime, their carping in marked contrast to the positive reception Key's proposals received from all sides of the criminal justice lobby.

Clark herself has said little about Key's speech - deliberately. She did not want her comments to end up overshadowing her own announcement.

Without mentioning Key or National by name, she limited her rebuttal to arguing early intervention and preschool monitoring of antisocial behaviour was the answer to stopping today's youngsters becoming tomorrow's violent offenders.

She also gave National a flick by blaming Ruth Richardson's 1991 "Mother of All Budgets" for creating the social dysfunction which spawned today's violent young criminals.

The resurrection of Richardson is part of Clark's "you know you can trust us, but you can't be sure you can trust them" line of attack on National.

The claim National has a "hidden agenda" worked in 2005 when Don Brash, an unashamed advocate of free market policies, was National's leader.

Clark laid it on thick again yesterday.

But whether it will work against the more moderate, more centrist and more reassuring figure of John Key is a very moot point.