It was a bad day for many. There were some stank-ass slapdowns on the campaign trail today. Only one leader floated above it all.
It’s already as if the weight has been lifted from Winston Peters’ shoulders – today he was walking on sunshine. Back today on his loved home ground of Tauranga, his stronghold for 21 years, he delivered a stinging slapdown to a young Covid denier. “Where is your evidence that there is a virus?” the man asked.
“Sit down,” Peters interrupted his interlocutor. And wham, bam, he hit the man with some quickfire statistics about the pandemic and its spread around the world. “And here we’ve got someone who says the Earth is flat. Sorry sunshine, no thanks.”
It was the old Winston, having a good day channelling his mentor Muldoon – and of course, continuing to talk up NZ First’s chances in the face of all the polls. “I have been to Warsaw. It is the capital of Poland. That’s where Poles live. That’s all I do when I talk about polls. All the rest is just ridiculous,” he told Newshub.
In the same town, National leader Judith Collins is being undermined by her own candidates. Former leaders Todd Muller and Simon Bridges have been going merrily off-message with full page newspaper ads and billboards showing their photos – but no mention of Collins. Strategy: two ticks for the local candidates. But Collins was even more off-message herself, with some provocative rhetoric in which she blamed the personal “weakness” of overweight people for the country’s obesity problems. And the day got worse: she compared seismic testing for exploratory gas drilling to a pregnancy ultrasound scan. That’s a metaphor too uncomfortable to contemplate.
While Winston Peters was talking up his party’s chances, Greens co-leader James Shaw was talking down his. At Victoria University, as a self-described warm-up act while hundreds of students awaited Jacinda Ardern’s arrival, he went to some lengths to emphasise how vulnerable the Greens are. “We are sweating it slightly with that 5 percent threshold at the moment,” he told students. It was a bid for strategic voting: if you want a Labour-led government, you need to vote the Greens over the threshold, he argued. But Ardern was along half an hour later, with a slapdown worthy of Winston. “The simplest answer of course is that voting for Labour is how you bring me in as the Labour leader,” she retorted. “That is why, of course, we are campaigning for two ticks for our party.”
At the university, Jacinda Ardern seemed to be testing just how many people she could get into one room – which may yet be her most effective response to the country’s housing shortage. The big crowd was a distraction from the publication of the party’s manifesto, and the discovery that Labour had quietly shelved the failed KiwiBuild programme. Polls have shown that after the economic and health response to Covid, housing remains voters’ biggest concern. Ardern sets a high standard on the campaign trail; measured against that standard, this was a bad day.
We dunno about ACT leader David Seymour. Mostly, he’s on a bit of a roll. If such a thing as momentum exists in New Zealand campaigning, he’s got it. But what he’ll probably remember today is being called out by an 18-year-old Green candidate, Luke Wijohn. “My generation and ideology will make whatever jokes we want about your white-supremacist-defending, interest-to-student-loan-adding, minimum-wage-decreasing, stank-ass leader,” Wijohn blasted. “Stank-ass?” For anyone, that’s just a bit of a stink day.
* This article has been corrected to clarify that Judith Collins’ ultrasound analogy applied to the seismic testing which takes place ahead of exploratory offshore oil and gas drilling, not the drilling itself. Newsroom’s rating of the quality of Collins’ day remains unchanged.