Our Herald panel of experts give their verdicts on second 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: Bill English

Herald political editor

Bill English was a bundle of frustration in the first half.

Despite his passion for social investment and knowledge of what makes a growing economy, he seemed to be less appreciated by the supposed non-partisan audience than the somewhat ethereal Jacinda Ardern.

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It was exemplified when he seized upon the concept of his tunnels such as Waterview versus her vision. (Patrick Gower didn't dare raise the notion of tunnel vision but he did extract a target from English to reduce child poverty by 100,000 next term, which was a bit of a Brian Edwards-postal dispute moment for those with long memories.)

English showed some determination to take the fight to Ardern - and even the unflappable Ardern was flapped under some pressure over her answers on housing.

The second half was more even but the contest goes to English, not least for the best line on his humiliating defeat in 2002: "I got up again."

Liam Dann. Photo / Doug Sherring
Liam Dann. Photo / Doug Sherring

LIAM DANN Winner: Jacinda Ardern

Herald business editor-at-large

This was a feistier debate, more frustrating yet perversely more compelling.

English and Ardern traded blows early and things threatened to get ugly.

By the end though they had relaxed. Perhaps they'd developed a shared collegiality in the face of a barrage of rapid-fire questions from irrepressible moderator Patrick Gower.

Ardern was stronger this time. She still struggles with two big holes in Labour policy - ill-defined tax plans and a belief that you can slash immigration and build more houses.

She can't admit that house prices will have to fall to improve home ownership.

Still, she was able to switch the narrative back to vision and inter-generational change.

It's these powerful things that can make her PM.

English was forced to interrupt, at risk of appearing overly aggressive. He had his moments and made a big bold call on child poverty.

But he was on the back foot.

Toby Manhire. Photo / Doug Sherring
Toby Manhire. Photo / Doug Sherring

TOBY MANHIRE Winner: Bill English

Herald columnist

This was dramatically more animated, fired up and funny. English and Ardern comfortably beat their Thursday selves. It was a bigger risk for English, and if at worst he was interrupty and condescending, at best it looked passionate.

Ardern was better, too, but if anything there was too much values and vision and "how people feel" - she's so far ahead of her opponent on this stuff that laying it on so thick starts getting mawkish. She recovered, but English's surprise incursion on her strongest territory - by announcing a target of lifting 100,000 children out of poverty - left Ardern, for a moment, utterly disarmed.

English's other big risk was on the "$11 billion-dollar hole" claim about Labour's numbers, the brouhaha that dominated the debate prelude.

The experts have said he's wrong. He doubled down on it. English edged it tonight, but it could come back to bite.

Heather du Plessis-Allan. Photo / Hagen Hopkins
Heather du Plessis-Allan. Photo / Hagen Hopkins

HEATHER DU PLESSIS-ALLAN Winner: Split decision

Herald On Sunday columnist

This debate was a proper ding dong. Gone were the forced smiles of the first debate. These were two serious - and at times angry - politicians. They over-talked each other, called each other out, and went toe-to-toe on issues.

English promised to bring 100,000 children out of poverty and Ardern promised to keep the pension age at 65.

English was weak on questions of trust. It's become a problem for the National Party following the Todd Barclay debacle and the Winston Peters superannuation leak.

Ardern was weak on tax. Again. She was also unconvincing on child poverty, which was a surprise given it's her pet topic.

English's winning moment came when he got angry. He argued for solid projects over Ardern's "vision".

Ardern's moment came when she sounded less like a politician and more like a human. She acknowledged the pair's debate over an alleged $11 billion hole in Labour's numbers sounds to voters like nothing more than two bickering politicians.

If it was a boxing match, Ardern won the first half, English took out the second.