Duncan Garner: Jacinda Ardern has public dancing to her tune as she lines up poll position

Principal John Inger greets Jacinda Ardern at Morrinsville College, her former school.
DOMINICO ZAPATA/STUFF

Principal John Inger greets Jacinda Ardern at Morrinsville College, her former school.

OPINION: New Labour leader Jacinda Ardern suddenly has a 50/50 chance of becoming our youngest post-war prime minister. 

Given her momentum it's probably even higher than that. I gave former leader Andrew Little no chance. Neither did any of his MPs in their many private moments of honesty. 

Yet in one short, dramatic and potentially career-defining week Ardern has taken Labour from dead man walking, to astonishing fresh young things dancing.

Prime Minister Bill English at the opening of the new Kahukura building at Ara Institute of Canterbury.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF

Prime Minister Bill English at the opening of the new Kahukura building at Ara Institute of Canterbury.

Yet not much has changed policy wise. Labour has effectively announced two new taxes: a petrol tax to build a light rail system in a decade and a water levy to nail farmers and business, with the aim of cleaning up our rivers.

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It's a levy no-one knows anything about. It deserves more scrutiny and that will come.

Metiria Turei and James Shaw emerge from a weekly caucus.
ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF

Metiria Turei and James Shaw emerge from a weekly caucus.

There is much more to discuss about the merits or lack of in both these policies. Yet it's clear also that Labour is showing no mercy to the Greens with their policy mix. They are furious with the Greens and their poorly executed welfare debate.

If they crush the Greens before the Greens crucify themselves Labour will be a contented bunch. So Labour is desperate for their DJ leader to keep the music pumping. And so far there's no 'off' button.

So far Ardern has not put a foot wrong. She comes across as positive, fresh, new, happy and keen on progress – not personality assassinations and nastiness. She's been nothing short of a revelation.

Winston Peters at Waikato University earoliur this week.
TOM LEE/STUFF

Winston Peters at Waikato University earoliur this week.

Her smartest move has been to say she won't attack Bill English on his sloppy handling of the Todd Barclay affair. That's smart. And English looks like he's hiding something. English is prone to off days - he can not afford to have too many over the next 45 days.

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She doesn't need to attack the PM anyway. Winston Peters is the hitman on this, leaving Ardern to muse with the country about a better, positive future.

The pressure will come though. National will somehow try and make her look too young and inexperienced during the campaign and surely their chance will come in the TV debates. Good luck, polls suggest the voting public don't see her age as an issue.

I've debated and cross-examined Ardern before in these TV type debates – she's enormously competent. National will do well to not underestimate her. She may end up being a tricky, smiling target.

I've also lost count of the number of people over the past week who have told me they're going to vote for Labour this election.

Admittedly none of my week-long survey of dairy owners, students, teachers, cabbies and office workers had any scientific basis - but when I asked them why, they came back with two words: Jacinda Ardern.

Right now we're dealing with a mini-phenomenon in politics. Labour will be hoping it lasts another 45 days. National is desperate for it to stop.

The most crucial thing I took from the Newshub-Reid Research poll this week was Ardern's rocket launch up the preferred PM rankings.

English was on 27.7, Ardern was up 17 points to 26.3. I expected her to rise – but not this much. Something is happening. She's now almost neck and neck with Bill English. This really matters.

I have never seen a change of government in 20 years when the preferred PM hasn't come from the opposition party.

The opposition leader needs to be liked and needs to nudge past the PM of the day. I saw it in 1999 when Helen Clark went past Jenny Shipley in the One News-Colmar polls at TVNZ. 

 I never saw Don Brash go past Helen. I saw John Key's explosion onto the political scene as opposition leader. He finally went past Clark at the time Labour supported the anti-smacking legislation.

So Ardern is poised nicely to consolidate and go past English.

And Labour needs to lock in the 33 per cent party vote result and build. It'll need 35-plus in my opinion if it wants a mandate to govern. It may yet go past 37.

Cleverly, Labour looks to have inoculated itself from their bed-pals, the hapless Greens and their spectacular own goal and collapse. 

The Greens have had their worst week in 20 years. They didn't so much stumble as walked off the cliff without a parachute.

Their wimpy, sycophantic, stupid and blind loyalty to Metiria Turei's poorly judged and selfish benefit fraud campaign is only just being felt. She had to go as co-leader, but the damage has already been done.

It's a triple whammy. Lose your co-leader, lose two other MPs, lose your support.

It took too long for Turei to go. The Greens now risk not making it back at all. And it all rests with co-leader James Shaw, who has been Turei's biggest supporter.

Shaw has been damaged by this too - he'll do well to get the Greens five or six per cent on election night. His inexperience shone out this week. 

And that's the National Party's big hope. Claim and claim again that the Left is in tatters. Ironically, Labour has never been this united.

So we now have 45 days to go. 

English says it won't come down to personality. Whatever, Bill. It's crucial. Ask John Key.

But Ardern's chances of being PM are still likely to rest with a single man and single malt whiskey. Peters is the old hand on the whiskey front although it's Ardern's tipple of choice too. 

Is he really willing to make a bolter, a 37-year old woman, the prime minister. He's old-school, a stickler for runs on the board and experience. What is he really thinking? 

Here's some free advice for Labour's lot: Tell deputy Kelvin Davis to shut up with his scripted, cheesy one-liners and grab some ice from the freezer and invite Winnie to the third floor for a session.

Suddenly Ardern crashes in. The rest could be history. Winston is key. 

Treat him well. No-one is likely to be crowned PM without his say so. More ice, Winston? 

 - Stuff

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