Welcome to the Politics Briefing on Debate Day 1. The first of the televised leaders debates starts at 7pm tonight and it is already Christopher Luxon’s to lose. The public polls have the right bloc well ahead of the left bloc - by 13 points in last week’s 1News Verian poll. So the pressure is on Prime Minister Chris Hipkins to play a blinder to reduce the gap. It must feel like swimming against the current.
Questions to Luxon about a possible $2.1 billion shortfall in the foreign buyers tax have dimmed on the campaign trail. They are bound to be renewed tonight by 1News political editor Jessica Mutch McKay, although most angles on the issue have already been exhausted.
The one area that could be a challenge for Luxon, as Herald political editor Claire Trevett points out, is not looking evasive. “He is not yet adept at undetectably sidestepping a question, but the repeated questions over his tax policy have shown he has developed the skill of simply refusing to answer a question - over and over and over,” she writes in a great preview of tonight’s contest.
The answer is obvious
Yesterday’s interrogation of Luxon by the media focused on a different issue - will you work with New Zealand First? It is instructive to compare Luxon’s approach with Act leader David Seymour’s. When Seymour was asked by The Spinoff’s Toby Manhire last week whether he would work with Winston Peters if National and Act fell short, Seymour said “obviously” - with the caveat he would not go into the same Cabinet as Peters.
Luxon obviously thinks exactly the same, but won’t utter the words for fear of pumping up NZ First’s vote. He did say: “I have to make a government work on the other side of the election,” which is his way of saying yes, he would work with NZ First if absolutely necessary.
It is a change in position from having previously said he would make his position clear on NZ First before the election. But it is also perfectly legitimate for Luxon to have no clearly stated position. The fact he has not ruled out NZ First says it all, and so long as the public understands that, there is no big problem.
Double trouble with candidates
Both Luxon and Hipkins have had problems this week with candidates and their previously expressed views - National with Ryan Hamilton in Hamilton East over strident opposition to fluoridation, and Labour with Golden Bay farmer and list No 72 candidate Deborah Rhodes and some extremely barmy views on the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer. At least Hamilton’s views and posts were previously known before National selected him. Hipkins seemed blindsided by the Rhodes issue and it neutralised any capital he could make out of the Hamilton issue.
With the polls the way they are, I have spent some time looking at the potential pressure points in a National-Act coalition negotiation and reached the conclusion that Act’s policy on a Treaty of Waitangi referendum would be the most problematic (see below).
Meanwhile in Montreal...
In another universe, former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was revealing a bit about how she and other leaders operated. She was taking a break from her fellowship at Harvard University to attend current and former left-leaning leaders at the Global Progress Action Summit in Montreal.
She was on a panel with former Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. She questioned why leaders did not admit they did not have answers “when we are constantly presented with challenges where we don’t”.
“The reason we don’t say that is because we think to give confidence to our voters, we need to demonstrate absolute knowledge absolutely.”
Big ups to commentator Josie Pagani, who chaired one of the sessions with the Norwegian PM and British Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
By the way, Happy 130th Suffrage Day, which the Herald is marking with a piece honouring 30 women we admire. See my picks below for the women in politics...
“I’m a swing voter. It’s a bit like arriving late in Te Awamutu and there’s only one food shop open and you’re hungry and there’s five unappealing things on the menu and I’m not sure what to do. I think quite a lot of people will go hungry” - Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown on TVNZ’s Q+A.
National’s Nicola Willis is trying to take Ōhāriu off Labour’s Greg O’Connor, who won in 2017 after Peter Dunne’s 33-year grip on the seat. Which National minister did Dunne oust from the seat in 1984? (See answer below.)
Newshub’s Lloyd Burr claimed in a weekend standup with Christopher Luxon that John Key would sometimes let post-Cabinet press conferences run for an hour and a half. I don’t think so.
To Winston Peters for telling a crowd at Paraparaumu that Nicola Willis wouldn’t be able to deliver tax cuts before Christmas. He forgot to tell them she hasn’t actually promised to deliver tax cuts before Christmas. Words matter.
For resilience, to Ethan Manera of Victoria University student newspaper Salient, who tweeted last night: “Great to have Winston Peters in the Salient office today for an interview! He called me ignorant, a hypocrite and said I need a new job. Stay tuned for the podcast and write-up...” You know you’ve arrived when you are insulted by the best of insulters.
Latest political news and views
OPINION - leaders debate: It should be National leader Christopher Luxon who has the bigger job ahead of him in the first of the leaders debates tonight - but somehow it’s Labour leader Chris Hipkins, writes Claire Trevett.
Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s senior political correspondent. She was named Political Journalist of the Year at the Voyager Media Awards in 2023, 2020 and 2018.
For more political news and views, listen to On the Campaign, the Herald’s politics podcast.