When Judith Collins became National's leader she said the party would do a more competent job in government than Labour.
"Competence" is a tough sell when you lose $4 billion (or was it $8b?). So is "strong team" when your party is a shambles of resignations, leadership coups, selection fiascos, Mervs and swerves.
If you want to be the government you have to make the case for why your ideas are better. Jacinda Ardern wants to remove the "bloodsports" from politics, but dividing lines are crucial. They don't just give you a point of difference to your opponents, they allow you to own popular positions, according to UK commentator John McTernan.
At least National tried when it promised tax cuts of up to $60 a week. After all, people on modest incomes today pay the same rate of tax as the wealthiest. That's not fair.
Taxes have been rising steadily for households. More people have been pushed into higher tax brackets as wages rise. GST went up.
But National's policy is only half right. They haven't paid for it. Anyone who has balanced a household budget knows that if you reduce your income, your spending will be cut. If the government cuts tax, it will cut health, education, border safety.
National should have promised to pay for income tax cuts by instead taxing wealth so we pay tax once we get to the top of the hill, not on the way up. That would be a popular response to Labour's biggest weakness – increasing inequality.
About 59per cent of New Zealanders think the wealthier should pay more tax (according to a TVNZ poll). When Ardern was elected, the biggest issue in polling was poverty and inequality. Her ability to articulate this was the reason she won.
Now Labour is exposed.
The wealth of households that own property and financial assets increased by $250 billion in Labour's first term without any tax on the gain.
Everyone is talking about who won or lost the first leaders' debate. Look who's really losing. Analyst Max Rashbrooke says the wealthiest 1per cent of New Zealanders have a typical net worth of $6.2 million – 68 times as much as the typical Kiwi.
In contrast, the poorest half have a net worth of just $12,000.
Covid and lockdown will make poverty and inequality worse. Collins says she'll build our way out of it. Ardern talks as if she has already fixed it, or as if we're making progress.
Neither is credible. As inequality continues to rise, inevitably there will be a political reckoning.
• Josie Pagani is executive director of the Council for International Development.