Thu. Oct 22nd, 2020


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Election 2020: The Covid 19 coronavirus campaign that sometimes went off-piste

5 min read

It was supposed to “the Covid election” but politicians quickly found out that simply saying that would not make it come true. The NZ Herald looks at the unwanted interlopers and off-road excursions during a campaign that started, then stopped, started again and then seemed to never end.

Fiscal holes

There must have been a “eureka” moment in Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s office when they discovered National had a $4 billion hole in its fiscal plan.

It was a moment of pure sweet revenge for Robertson, for whom the 2017 fiscal hole battle was still a raw topic. Then National had claimed an $11.7b hole in Labour’s books.

As National’s leader Judith Collins herself once famously said: “give back double”.

Robertson did just that, taking the shine off National’s policy of temporary tax cuts for workers.

Rabbit holes

Collins is probably as surprised as anybody that obesity ended up being a topic of her last week on the campaign. Collins’ tendency for blunt talking is refreshing, a good contrast to Ardern and so can be a virtue, but sometimes goes too far.

While some probably applauded her claims that obesity was a “weakness” and a “matter of personal responsibility”, and Gerry Brownlee tried to save her with his own “mea culpa”, it ended up unnecessarily taking her off message at a critical point in the campaign.

She is not the first leader to find herself lurching down a strange rabbit hole at the end of the campaign, and will not be the last.

Collins' triumph in television debates

The debates delivered some of the best moments of the campaign. They also gave Collins the momentum she needed at the start of the campaign, and the opportunity to show she could foot it against Ardern.

There was Collins’ “what for, dear?” to Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and her “poor wee thing” after Ardern said debates should not be blood sports.

There was the no-meat debate question: “I’m not going to tell people when they can eat their meat. I’m not into communism or fascism.”

The debates also delivered some consensus that could yield results: on a four-year term, on subsidising period products, and on the desirability of being on the cover of Vogue magazine.

The flying minnow

Other parties’ famines were another’s feast and National and NZ First’s poll woes have driven enough voters into the arms of Act to push them over the 5 per cent threshold in the polls.

Act leader David Seymour clearly decided he was on a lucky streak, so bought a Lotto ticket for election night.

Going off-brand

Ardern’s campaign was so politically safe and risk-free (aka boring) she could win a health and safety award for it.

But there was one off-brand day when Ardern announced Labour’s affordable housing policy at a building site.

The building site in question overlooked the Harbour Bridge on the North Shore, and was a new home for an American multi-millionaire venture capitalist.

The head builder also turned out to be working on National MP Melissa Lee’s campaign against Ardern in Mt Albert. He had the courtesy to keep this from Ardern.

The friendly fire

National was beset by another bout of own-goalitis after Collins announced on the Newstalk ZB Leaders Breakfast that she would review Auckland Council in her first 100 days.

An objection email from National’s local government spokesperson Denise Lee to the caucus was leaked soon after.

It was another field-day for Labour’s Grant Robertson, who took to re-tweeting news stories about the saga with one of the lines of National’s own billboards: “Strong. Team.”

Best politician-on-politician slamdowns

In the Mediaworks debate, Ardern’s attempt to rebut Collins’ claim that Samoa went into Covid-19 lockdown earlier than New Zealand resulted in Collins retorting: “Don’t disrespect Samoa. They kept it out.”

A few days later, news landed that Collins had skipped a visit to a cafe in Mosgiel which had prepared cheese rolls for her. As journalists discussed it in her earshot, Ardern piped up: “Don’t disrespect Mosgiel.”

Best politician on voter slamdown

At Winston Peters’ public meeting in Tauranga this week, a man with an American accent stood and asked Peters for proof Covid-19 was real.

Peters’ response speaks for itself:

“Sit down, sit down, sit down. We’ve got someone who obviously got an education in America: 220,000 people have died in the United States. There are eight million cases to date. We’ve got 79,000 cases reported in India. And here is somebody who gets up and says the Earth is flat. Sorry, sunshine. Wrong place.”

The photo ops

Both Collins and Ardern had photo op disasters. In Ardern’s case, it was for having too many people too close to her during a selfie session in Palmerston North while Covid-19 restrictions were in place. Ardern apologised.

A week later, the restrictions were lifted and Ardern spent the rest of the campaign amid a throng.

For Collins, it was for not having enough people close to her: she was mocked after a walkabout down a sparsely populated Ponsonby Rd resulted in her team arranging “random encounters” with pre-positioned National supporters. Then there was the prayer.

The typos

National MP Simon Bridges mis-spelt his own name as “Brigdes” on his fliers. He didn’t notice until somebody pointed it out on Twitter.

Labour had to correct its own fiscal plan after a “typo” resulted in a $140b mistake.
A graph was wrongly labelled, resulting in debt in dollar terms rather than as a percentage to GDP.

National MP David Bennett claimed he stood for “lover taxes” instead of “lower taxes” in a newspaper advertisement.

The last typo of the campaign goes to Judith Collins, who tweeted a photo of herself on Thursday with a cup of tea and: “A cup of team [sic] before my fourth media interview of the morning.”

We can be pretty sure it was, at least, a strong team.

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