At the Niagara timber factory in Invercargill, National leader Bill English is asking for laundry tips.

Two of the workers are covered in glue and he's asked how they get it off.

He's in his own sticky situation as he tries to ward off Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and any tips for finding a way out are welcome.

They deliver the bad news that it doesn't come out. They just buy new overalls eventually.


English is in Invercargill for a day - his old neck of the woods where nobody mentions things like holes in Labour's budget and Jacindamania is on low, if not mute.

At the timber plant, twins Jessie and Ashley Bragg, 25, are planning to vote for the first time but are yet to decide who for. They think too much attention is going on Auckland.

The verdict on English is that he seems like "a nice enough guy." They don't follow the news.

Ask what they think about Ardern and they shrug. "I've never met her."

In his six-hour visit, English crams in visits to Aurora College, the timber mill, the Southern Institute of Technology to announce new carrots and sticks for young unemployed people, a cafe and the local sports teams at the ITL Stadium Southland.

At the sawmill he looks at wood. He walks past a sign that says "aim for perfect" and then another sign that says "beware: acid bath."

He looks at more wood and then he asks a worker if she ever buys the kindling the scrap wood is made into.

"No," she says. "I've got a heat pump."

He talks to the workers about the economy and about National's tax cuts and then tells them the other side wants to take away their tax cuts.

At the end he asks for their vote.

The direct pitch for a vote is a new addition to his speeches, prompted by the fact that early voting is due to start on Monday. The early bird gets the worm.

In case they missed it, he calls out "vote National" as he leaves.

Jimmy who laminates timber says Ardern is all well and good and will get there, but shouldn't get there until 2020.

"You've got to serve as leader for a decent period of time - not just three months."

He's supported National for eight years "because I'm a sheep farmer."

Bill English talks to twins Jessie and Ashley Bragg, 26, at Niagara timber mill in Invercargill. Photo / Claire Trevett
Bill English talks to twins Jessie and Ashley Bragg, 26, at Niagara timber mill in Invercargill. Photo / Claire Trevett

The campaign has turned into something of an urban - rural divide. The farmers don't like Labour policies and English is more than happy to be a shoulder to cry on.

So while Ardern is being mobbed by the students of Hamilton, English is saying the farmers should not be brought into an emissions trading scheme yet and talking about bull semen.

There are apparently some bulls whose offspring produce lower levels of nitrates in their ablutions. "You can go actually go and buy low end semen now."

Wherever he goes he comes across someone he knows. "Kelly!" English yells as someone calls to him from a car on the main drag. "How are ya? You're a long way from home."

Kelly is Uncle Kelly whose real name is actually Kevin which English seems to think makes perfect sense. Kelly is in town because he's in his 80s and his eyes are up the wop.

The last stop is ILT Stadium Southland where English meets the Stags - Southland's rugby team.

"Sosi!" English hollers when he sees Tauasosi Tuimavave. Sosi played rugby with his son Rory. The rest of the players hoot when English adds "I can remember when Sosi used to go to church."

"That was a long time ago," someone says.

He's been told to give the Stags a rark up. The team hasn't been doing too well. They got a drubbing from Northland last weekend. English knows how that feels, courtesy of NZ First leader Winston Peters.

Instead of a rark up, he gives them some tips from his own campaign: "we've just got to keep executing the basics well and not get distracted by the fancy stuff."

Maybe buy some new overalls as well.