The trouble with Jacinda Ardern is that she's too nice.

In her first television debate she came close to a former Labour leader she's talked about since her rapid ascension to what had been an uncomfortable leader's chair when she accepted she would inherit a robust and successful economy created under Bill English's leadership.

It had the potential of the debate between David Lange and Rob Muldoon in the lead-up to the Muldoon's drunkenly called snap election of 1984 when the Labour leader waxed on about how he didn't want the Prime Minister to be written out of this country, and he respected his capacity and the people who backed him.

"I love you Mr Lange," Muldoon said as the credits were about to roll up.

Despite the sentiment, their loathing for each other was obvious.

But the trouble with Ardern and English is that they seem to quite like each other and the handshake in the studio after it was all over seemed warm.

These two lack the mongrel even if the earnest Ardern incredibly declared at one point that it had been a robust debate, which perhaps just goes to show she's not the type of person to get into a slagging match.

She also observed during the discussion, for that's what it was, that she didn't know who Bill was debating because it certainly wasn't her.


And Ardern was right about that, he was talking to her, trying to convince her that his experience had made the economy what she told us she thought it was.

She said afterwards that she was happy with the way she managed her own decorum. And she did manage it, frequently off camera shaking her head, even if the smile was mainly ever present with the lips having to be lubricated with a mint to stop them from sticking to her teeth.

She clearly disagreed with what her opponent was saying, but politely didn't interrupt.

His bark was more like that of a chihuahua on the odd occasion that he did interrupt.

In my book Ardern nailed it though when she was given 30 seconds to answer a question from a viewer who was a cancer survivor and wanted their views on legalising medicinal cannabis.

She didn't need 30 seconds, she said, before simply answering "absolutely yes".

The conservative English took more than his 30 seconds, talking about the process that first should be followed by the dying patient.

As a wrap up, they were both asked what they brought to their unexpected elevation to the leadership.

English said he was more motivated, Ardern said she was simply being herself.

Judging by the opinion poll put just before the debate, the public like the latter even if the winner of the debate was vanilla.