National Leader Judith Collins improvised progressively after initially appearing slightly off-colour in the first leaders' debate at TVNZ, while Jacinda Ardern did not lose much ground despite not appearing her usual self of an eloquent communicator. 

Many political pundits were surprised to see Prime Minister Ardern, not at her eloquent best and progressively losing sheen in her conviction and performance as opposed to her counterpart Collins who on the contrary improvised towards the end of the debate. 

This is when both leaders had walked into the debate on the news of recently released Colmar Brunton polls that accentuated Labour Party’s massive lead (48 %) over the National Party (31%) despite both experiencing some fall in their numbers. 

Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins at the first leaders' debate, with moderator John Campbell. Photo- Fair use / Screenshot 

Against that backdrop, many experts who had hoped that Ardern could come up with an impressive, eloquent performance akin to many such performances as in Covid-19 related public health updates that have dominated public memory in recent times, would have been clearly disappointed.  

Similarly, Judith Collins, who many National’s ardent supporters have long hoped to be the party’s most potent response to Ardern’s so-called fluff, would also be equally disappointed as she was not able to make any significant dent in Ardern’s popularity. 

National Party Leader Judith Collins at the first leaders' debate. Photo- Fair use / Screenshot 

In a tale repeated several times in the last three years, where Prime Minister Ardern had remained unscathed by any political-torpedo or seeming inadequacy in performance, the leaders-debate also ended with the same script, with Ardern walking away with limited damage to her reputation despite Opposition Leader Collins doing her homework well and coming up with several pointed interjections. 

Leadership is not just about policy and plan, but vision and hope

However, what saved the day for Ardern against Collin’s spirited charge, disapproval, and the challenge was her key message that leadership was not just about having a plan, but also vision and hope for the future. 

Ardern’s seeming lack of a plan, especially among her detractors, is oft-repeated, and so is equally depleted supply of hope and optimism in Collin’s flat-faced stern outlook. 

In the end, it is left to prospective voters to choose from the two contrasting options. 

Labour Party Leader Jacinda Ardern at the first leaders' debate. Photo- Fair use / Screenshot 

So far the successive polls have shown that the majority of New Zealanders are choosing to stand resolutely besides Prime Minister Ardern, despite some relentless, and in some case mindless, criticism of the government’s Covid management in recent times, contrary to what many experts argue otherwise. 

If that is any clue, then despite some experts giving round one to Judith Collins in the leader’s debate, it is apparent that Prime Minister Ardern would have walked away with few more supporters from the leader’s debate than her main adversary.