Voters' choice becoming clear as election day looms

by Jane Patterson / 06 September, 2017

Jacinda Ardern and Bill English during the second leaders debate in Auckland on Monday night. Photo / Michael Bradley

This election is a fascinating mix - a new untested leader in the form of Jacinda Ardern, whose personal appeal has captured the imagination of many voters, and the seasoned war horse of Bill English, who is facing down a Labour leader for the second time in his political career.

As the campaign progresses, the differences between the two main party leaders is becoming ever more stark.

On policy they are divided on tax cuts, immigration, superannuation, abortion, capital gains tax and charter schools, but they do now agree on a target for reducing child poverty.

Style wise, Mr English is practical and pragmatic.

Ms Ardern talks a lot about values and vision, something her opponent has tried to turn against her.

"People can't go shopping with your values," Mr English told her.

The second live televised debate provided the National leader with another opportunity after Ms Ardern said people wanted vision not "projects", allowing Mr English to claim Labour wanted to shut down the newly opened Waterview Tunnel and shut down construction in lieu of "vision".

This underlines National's pitch - a party that has the economy pumping along, especially when compared to economies around the world.

The weakness in that argument is not everyone is feeling the benefits, as evidenced by the focus on wage growth, poverty and inequality.

National is offering more of the same if that is what people want.

Labour is offering vision and values, but the risk of that is leaving people feeling slightly vague about what that means.

The vulnerability National is ruthlessly trying to exploit is a lack of detail around what a capital gains tax might look like under a Labour government, conveniently putting aside the fact National introduced a tax package which included a GST hike - without campaigning on it - when it was first elected.

Ms Adern has said Labour would wait to receive the recommendations of a tax working group before deciding on a capital gains tax.

However she views such a tax as a means of tackling intergenerational unfairness and is much more enthusiastic than her predecessor, Andrew Little.

That is the main reason she shifted Labour's position to give it the option of introducing a capital gains tax in the first term, without having to seek a mandate in a later election.

But it is mischief for Mr English to continue to talk about income tax hikes under Labour, which Ms Ardern has ruled out.

He is able to drop in income tax jibes while talking about the range of other taxes Labour has already flagged, and has extended his ATM metaphor to voters spitting out more cash for a Labour government.

Ms Ardern has chided Mr English for scaremongering over tax, but went a step further accusing National of "flat-out lies" after its attacks on Labour's fiscal plan.

She was touring the Pink Batts factory when the news landed that National finance spokesperson Steven Joyce had called a media conference at the Beehive to lay out what he said were $11 billion worth of errors in Labour's alternative Budget.

While reporters waited outside, there was a hurried phone consultation between Ms Ardern and her finance spokesperson, Grant Robertson.

She came out denying there were any problems with her party's plan but did not articulate the details of exactly why that was.

It took Mr Robertson to flesh out the explanation and mount a credible defence against the attack from National.

But Ms Ardern and Mr Robertson have both held the line; they knew if either flinched, Labour's economic credibility was at risk.

In the ensuing 24 hours, BERL - which signed off on Labour's plan - backed its validity; no great surprise as it too had skin in the game.

But since then several other independent economists and think tanks have come out saying, while Labour's plan is not flawless, there is no evidence of a fiscal black hole.

Mr Joyce is looking very isolated in his criticism of Labour's alternative budget.

But in an election this tight, any mud that sticks will be worth the price in National's eyes.

This article was originally published by RNZ.

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