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Labour Sets The Pace In The Campaign

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

By Peter Wilson, NZPA Political Editor

It's halfway through the first week of a four-week campaign, and Labour is ahead on points.

That's partly because Labour is the government.

It can do things. National is confined to talking about what it would do if it wins.

This difference was in Labour's favour when Prime Minister Helen Clark announced the bank deposit guarantee scheme, and she used her party's campaign launch on Sunday to do it.

The next day she announced Labour's universal student allowance policy. That was a fair go, it was about what a future Labour government would do.

Those two big bang events set the agenda for the first three days, and National wasn't looking good.

It whinged about not being briefed in advance about the deposit guarantee scheme, although John Key himself didn't make a big deal of it.

It quibbled about the cost of the universal allowance, which is negative territory on a policy that was obviously popular with the people it affects -- students.

National's annoyance was understandable. Labour snapped up student votes in 2005 by scrapping interest on their loans, the universal allowance is a bid to do the same this time.

But it isn't an election winner. Not enough of them vote to make a really big difference.

While these events were making news, Miss Clark was using the international financial crisis to ram home the message that it's not the right time to change the Government.

Better to stay with the one you know in times of trouble than let a new bunch of ministers get their hands on the levers of power.

And they're risky, reckless gamblers, of course.

By mid-week National was making up lost ground, mainly due to Mr Key's performance in Tuesday night's leaders debate. He was a match for Miss Clark, despite giving away years of experience. It doesn't get harder than live TV, and Key had never done a campaign leaders' debate before.

National hopes it has levelled the playing field. Labour can't keep on rolling out popular policies -- they cost too much and whether they can be afforded becomes a credibility issue.

NZPA's rolling poll that averages the results of six published surveys shows Labour maintaining a positive trend. The party is up nearly a percentage point since last week, rating 35.7 percent against National's 48.2 percent which is down 1.6 points.

Labour has been helped by two polls in the last seven days which showed a remarkable change in the fortunes of the main parties. The Morgan Research poll put the gap between them at just three points, which seemed hardly believable. But that was followed by a TV3 poll with a gap of six points, down from 11 the previous week.

For a while it looked as though something astonishing was happening. TV One spoiled that with a poll showing the gap at 18 points, with little change in the standing of the parties.

Miss Clark advised this poll should be ignored. Colmar Brunton, who conducted it, had predicted National would win the last election, she recalled.

Miss Clark said Labour's private polling showed a Labour/Greens combination neck and neck with National/ACT. The NZPA rolling poll puts Labour/Greens at 42.5 percent and National/ACT at 50.2 percent.

The centre-left parties might be catching up, but they're going to have to run a lot faster in the next three weeks to catch their rivals.

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