The Soap Box: Tonight's debate will make or break Ardern and English

Author
Barry Soper,
Section
Opinion,
Publish Date
Thursday, 31 August 2017, 6:05AM
Both the leaders have been going through their paces over the past 24 hours. (Photo \ NZME)
Both the leaders have been going through their paces over the past 24 hours. (Photo \ NZME)
It's a pity for Jacinda Ardern they're not old enough to vote if their enthusiasm was anything to go by, and even if a number of the kids from the decile one school in Auckland's Mt Roskill weren't quite sure who the Labour leader was, but they knew she was someone important given all the hoopla surrounding her visit.
 
The kids were a delight, enthusiastic about the projects they were involved in and happy to talk to the ever smiling Ardern about them. Awesome, was the word most frequently used by the 37-year-old Prime Ministerial aspirant.
 
The 3D printing room might well have been the answer to our housing crisis but it wasn't about to be politically exploited because these kids were into smaller scale projects, like barstools and yes, something that for a careless leader could have been up there with Don Brash's walking of the plank, coffins. There she was, having the serious discussion about this revolutionary technology, in front of the wooden, slatted caskets.
 
Fortunately no one asked her to try one for size neither was there a suggestion that the backdrop could have been ominous.
 
Tonight that will be put to the test though when she squares off for the first time against the man she described at the school as a seasoned politician and a competent one but she believes she's absolutely up to the job. And she's not worried about any left fielders, there are no skeletons in her closet she insists and with good reason. Ardern reminded me she was raised Mormon and her father was a cop so mischief wasn't something she ever had the change of getting up to.
 
The last time English took part in a leaders' debate was of course against another woman who was most certainly well seasoned. Helen Clark did an 18 year political apprenticeship before becoming Prime Minister three years earlier and English, who was just a few years older than Ardern at the time, was no match for her in the debates that followed or in the election, crashing National to its biggest ever defeat, securing just 20 percent of the vote. The worst day of his political life, he described it at the time and it's not one he plans to repeat.
 
By his own admission he's changed a lot since then which is just as well.
 
Both the leaders have been going through their paces over the past 24 hours, keeping their campaign schedules to a minimum . Television debates can make or break them as Labour's last leader David Cunliffe discovered, up against the telegenic John Key.
 
The cameras certainly like Ardern but she'll have to prove what comes out of her mouth is a match for what goes on in Bill English's brain.

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