Experts

Who owned the first leaders debate? Three experts, three different verdicts


David White Fairfax Media

Bill English and Jacinda Ardern squared off in their first leaders’ debate on Thursday night.

Who won the first leaders debate?

National’s Bill English and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern clashed in the first leaders debate at TVNZ’s studios in Auckland.

We asked three pundits for their predictions before the clash and checked back afterwards for their verdict.


TVNZ

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and National leader Bill English were asked what their thoughts were on legalising medicinal cannabis.

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DUNCAN: A DRAW

Associate Professor Grant Duncan teaches political theory and New Zealand politics at Massey University’s Albany campus. He called it an honourable draw.

STUFF

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern is giving Prime Minister Bill English a run for his money.

“The moderator put more pressure on Jacinda compared with the challenges to Bill over his government’s performance, handing Bill the advantage,” he said.

“In terms of which leader looked and sounded more prime-ministerial, then, Bill won. In terms of how well they addressed the complex policy issues, on the other hand, it was, as I predicted, an honourable draw.”

JERAM: ENGLISH WON


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Jacinda Ardern hit back after Bill English said “every person without children will be worse off under Labour”.

​A policy analyst at the New Zealand Initiative, Janesa Jeram awarded the debate to English.

“Bill won the debate, but Jacinda successfully proved that ‘relentlessly positive’ doesn’t mean pushover,” she said.

“Bill was surprisingly upbeat given tonight’s poll, and could give policies that should make sense to New Zealanders across the country. Whereas Jacinda struggled to sell some of Labour’s more theoretical, less fleshed out policies.”

Our political pundits, Grant Duncan, Jenesa Jeram, and Liam Hehir, weigh in ahead of Thursday night's leaders debate.

SUPPLIED

Our political pundits, Grant Duncan, Jenesa Jeram, and Liam Hehir, weigh in ahead of Thursday night’s leaders debate.

HEHIR: A POINTS WIN TO ARDERN

Political commentator Liam Hehir said Ardern was upbeat, conversant enough with the details and made no real missteps.

“Bill English was his usual sober self and also didn’t make any real mistakes (though there was a hint of defensiveness at times).

“Neither combatant landed a knockout blow, but there was more positive here for Ardern than there was for English – so it is a victory on points to her.

NO SURPRISES HERE

So how do their post-debate verdicts stack up against what they were expecting?

Here’s what they told us before the debate got underway.

DUNCAN: ‘IT’LL BE AN HONOURABLE DRAW’

Duncan predicted the debate would be an “honourable draw”. 

“It’ll be an honourable draw between two highly competent, but very different, leaders,” he said. 

“Bill will look solid and reliable, while Jacinda will combine sound understanding with genuine concern. Neither will attack the other, so I predict a robust debate about policy and finance, which neither will ‘win’.”

JERAM: ‘IF YOU ASKED ME TO CHOOSE, I’D BACK BILL’

Jeram said the debate could go either way, but if she had to choose, “I’d back Bill”. 

“If the debate strays into poverty/inequality issues, English has the upper-hand,” she said.

“Child poverty is supposed to be one of Ardern’s strengths, but it is hard to disagree with the radical principles of National’s social investment approach. As long as English can sell the compassionate side of the approach (and there is one), Labour cannot impress by simply promising to spend more without measuring results.”

HEHIR: ‘JACINDA ARDERN WILL WIN’

“I predict that Jacinda Ardern will win,” Hehir said. 

“These battles are won before they are fought and, as a charismatic challenger, Ardern has the favourable ground.

“As long as she makes no major gaffe, she is sure to be hailed the victor.”

* Stuff’s leaders debate, hosted by political editor Tracy Watkins and Stuff’s South Island editor-in-chief Joanna Norris, will be streamed live on September 7 at 6pm.


 – Stuff

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