It should have been a straightforward day for Bill English.

The National leader spent the day in blue territory, Otaki and Levin, with National's core support - farmers and food producers.

But his campaigning was nearly overshadowed by an errant backbencher's comments on suicide.

Everywhere English went today, he received validation of National's steady economic hand and its positive approach to immigration.


At food distribution factory Bidfood in Palmerston North, general manager Andrus Lei said Labour's plan to "close the gates" to immigrants would be disaster for his company.

His business could not employ people quickly enough - he had hired seven people in the last two days.

"We are trying every employment site you possibly can, we register with new ones every week, we are in the paper, we run permanent ads, we are getting leads from anywhere we can. But we're struggling."

"It's not a skill shortage, it's an availability shortage."

At Woodhaven Gardens, a 1000-acre commercial growing company in Levin, English walked through a packing shed where vegetables were being cleaned with an enormous hose. Water a few centimetres deep lapped around his leather shoes.

The company's owner, John Clarke, said his packing shed uses 150 cubic metres of water a day, and he has consent to use 3000 cubic litres a day for irrigation.

"The water is key for us," he said. "We need to wash our vegetables, we need to grow our vegetables, and we really don't want to have any tax just on water."

He repeated his criticism of Labour's policy: "We don't want to have a water tax here in New Zealand."

Prime Minister Bill English with worker Alexander Tyson, left, and owner John Clarke during his visit to Woodhaven Gardens in Levin. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Bill English with worker Alexander Tyson, left, and owner John Clarke during his visit to Woodhaven Gardens in Levin. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Clarke left English with a box of kale and spinach, which the National leader immediately re-gifted to the closest rest home - a touch which brought admiring sighs from the workers gathered around him.

Woodhaven Gardens owner John Clarke's business produces healthy food for NZ families. But he uses a lot of water and is opposed to Labour's plan for a water tax. Video / Mark Mitchell

But for all the positive signs, English's day was nearly derailed by National MP Simon O'Connor's attack on Labour leader Jacinda Ardern.

English's press conference this afternoon was dominated by questions about O'Connor, who had said earlier in the day that Ardern was concerned about youth suicide but was encouraging elderly and disabled suicide by endorsing euthanasia.

To make matters worse, English admitted that no National MP had attended the suicide prevention rally at which Ardern shed her tears.

"I wasn't aware that there was no one there and there should have been," he said.

To add salt into the wound, at the next stop English was asked to hand out a certificate to a "student of the week" at Horowhenua College, Jamie Lynn. The student's achievement was her work on the same suicide campaign which National had not turned up to. The party made amends today by sending Cabinet Minister Chris Finlayson to a suicide prevention forum in Wellington.

English started the day at a Whanau Ora centre in Palmerston North, where staff had successfully reduced offending among a group of 40 people who had 1000 offences between them.

It is exactly the sort of story which English wants to emphasise - the use of highly-specific data to create tailored social services right down to an individual level.

English asked to meet one of the Whanau Ora clients, Rodney Wilson, after hearing that police used to make 80 callouts to his house a year before he turned his life around through the programme.

"If it wasn't for Whanau Ora I probably would have gone on the track of committing more crimes, possibly ending up in jail," Wilson said.

He was delighted to have met English: "The Prime Minister - you only see him on TV. To actually meet the guy was big."

Would he vote for him?

"No," laughed. "I think Jacinda's got some mean policies."