Our Herald panel of experts give their verdicts on first leaders' debate between National leader Bill English and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern.

Our Herald panel: Toby Manhire, Audrey Young, Liam Dann and Heather du Plessis-Allan. Photo / Michael Craig
Our Herald panel: Toby Manhire, Audrey Young, Liam Dann and Heather du Plessis-Allan. Photo / Michael Craig

Audrey Young: Winner? Jacinda Ardern

NZ Herald political editor

It was Bill English but not as we know him. He sounded as though he had been in debating boot-camp for the past week, learning about gesticulation, intonation, brevity and how good it is to smile.

It doesn't come naturally to him. She looked relaxed and assured and won hands down on presentation.

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But English made many more direct hits on Labour and its tax policies than she did on National.

His favourite word to described Labour was "vague". Hers for him was "scaremongering".

But it was going to take a lot to beat the dramatic poll result of the previous hour and nothing did beat it.

It was almost an anti-climax - not helped by the informality of everyone being on first-name basis.

Few mistakes were made. She confused the question on fair pay with pay equity but nothing major.

It was a highly credible debut as potential Prime Minister alongside a seasoned operator and she gets the win.

Read more:
Housing, immigration and tax dominate debate
As it happened: English and Ardern go head to head
Kiwis react to election debate on Twitter

Liam Dann: Winner? Bill English

NZ Herald Business editor at large

On the substantive issues it was a close run thing. English was predictably weak on housing and water - two issues where the big problems have emerged under his watch.

Ardern struggled to reassure on Labour's undefined tax policy or explain how she'll be able to slash immigration and boost the number of skilled builders at the same time.

Neither sounded particularly credible on house building.

Ardern nearly nailed it on productivity, clearly outlining one of the big problems facing the economy but lost momentum with her solution which seemed to involve believing the children are the future - something everyone on the political spectrum agrees with in their own way.

English was shaky on wage growth.

Overall though, he appeared largely unrattled by the big poll and put in a polished performance, enough to put him marginally ahead on points.

But only just - which, considering his depth of experience, should have his strategists worried.

Toby Manhire: Winner? Jacinda Ardern

NZ Herald columnist and a Spinoff senior editor

The opening question seemed almost impossible to believe - or impossible to believe, at least, that it was directed at the leader of the National Party. "Why are you losing?" asked Mike Hosking of English, without a breath of mercy.

English managed an answer, something about the clear decision and their internal numbers, but the Colmar Brunton poll that put Labour in a small, but until recently unimaginable, lead an hour earlier was a blow to the solar plexus.

Imagine being asked to get up after such a winding and perform a sprint.

For Ardern, any banana skin slip in what will have been many New Zealanders' first substantial encounter with her was avoided.

English's best line was "people can't go shopping with your values". Ardern hit back swiftly with "Do we have a housing crisis?"

But it was Ardern's night.

And Hosking? He was excellent in 2014. Even better this time.

Heather du Plessis-Allan says Bill English shoehorned a warning about Labour's tax plans into any answer.
Heather du Plessis-Allan says Bill English shoehorned a warning about Labour's tax plans into any answer.

Heather du Plessis-Allan: Winner? Jacinda Ardern

Herald On Sunday columnist

Someone clearly told English to smile.

He explained why National is losing and smiled. He warned about Labour's tax cuts and smiled. He defended New Zealand's poor productivity and he smiled.

But he couldn't look at Ardern. Even when he talked to her, he could only manage a side-eye.

It was always going to be a difficult debate for English. It's harder to defend nine years in Government than to promise aspirational change. It's hard to go up against an opponent with a degree in communications.

English shoehorned a warning about Labour's tax plans into any answer.

Ardern made a point of telling us she's a leader. When she becomes Prime Minister, she told us, she will not let this housing crisis continue. But she dodged details. How many immigrants she would allow in went unanswered.

Ardern was expected to shine. She did. English was expected to flounder. He didn't. Ardern won, but English didn't lose by much.

What did you think?