Jacinda Ardern speaking in Hamilton yesterday

The huge number of early votes means the two party leaders are fast running out of time to campaign.

By last night slightly more than 40 per cent of the expected final vote had already been cast.

That means that nearly half the vote has been based on events so far on the campaign

Polls released over the past few weeks suggest that very roughly that points to a 50/30 split between Labour and National with the Greens teetering on the five per cent threshold and NZ First out of the race. ACT appears to be somewhere around eight per cent.

What it also means is that Jacinda Ardern knows she will continue to be Prime Minister.

That may explain why she seemed yesterday to change her tone and resumed sounding like the Prime Minister.

Though she maintains she is still a progressive politician she was talking much more like a Blairite centrist both on radio in the morning and in Hamilton on the campaign trail.

POLITIK Jacinda Ardern doing selfies in a Hamilton mall

Still she tried to talk up her progressive credentials at a campaign press conference in Hamilton but she ended up reaffirming her committee to consensus.

She had been talking about being a “consensus politician” and was asked whether that meant being a centrist politician.

“No,” she said.

“It means creating change that sticks.

“I  came into this parliament and watched National unravel significant reforms that were made by the previous Labour government.

“If we want to make change for the next generation, we have to do it in a way that makes sure it sticks.”

MEDIA: “So how do you describe your policies?”

ARDERN:” I am a progressive politician. I do seek change for the better. But I will try and bring people with me.”

This is presumably why she so firmly rejects the Greens proposal for a wealth tax even though it is endorsed by most people who would consider themselves progressives.

Asked about Trade Minister David Parker’s comments that the country needed a conversation on wealth inequality, she did not endorse them.

Instead, she pivoted away from Parker’s emphasis on rising real estate and share market values and the increasing wealth of the top one per cent.

If you’re talking about inequality, it’s not just about what’s happening in the upper end,” she said.

“It’s what we’re doing to lift the incomes at those lower income levels.”

Throughout her day in Hamilton, she kept coming back to consensus politics.

In a speech to a wide range of Waikato community groups she said that on any of the big issues the Government had worked on over the past few years; as a Labour Party “we have worked hard on consensus.”

She chose to focus on business in her speech and listed Labour’s policies starting with training and jobs.

POLITIK Jacinda Ardern checking out a cutting machine yesterday at Hamilton’s Londveld Engineering.

We have incredible people in this country, but we are always going to be surviving and making sure that they keep the skills and training for the jobs of tomorrow,” she said.

“So now that we have our borders closed, in particular, what are we doing to skilled New Zealanders and other people for those roles?

“And how do we overcome some of the barriers that have stood in the way?”

She talked about the wage subsidy; about dealing with issues like mental health in small business the takeup of new technology and “jobs, jobs, jobs”. 

And in a measure of how far Labour has come over its three years in Government, she praised the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership previously known as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

In 2015 Ardern apologised for her absence from an anti-TPP protest which was joined by six Labour MPs including David Parker, Phil Twyford, Megan Woods and Stuart Nash — all current members of the Cabinet.

But yesterday she was praising the CPTPP.

Some of the numbers on kiwifruit are staggering, and that is, of course, helped because we also remove some of the tariff barriers that existed, particularly the Japanese market, through some of our trade agreements that we’ve helped to negotiate,” she said.

“So that’s a win-win.

“We will keep championing access for our exporters into new markets negotiating things like a European Union free trade agreement.”

But she also warned of the dangers of over-dependence on one market. And she indicated that was China.

However, earlier on the Mike Hosking breakfast show, in a two-hour interview she had announced that once the Covid restrictions were lifted, she intended to lead trade missions overseas.

”The thing that is going to make a difference to New Zealand will be a combination of supporting our small businesses and entrepreneurs<”: she said.

“It will be investing in our exporters.

“And one of the things I want to do as soon as I am able to do so will be to lead trade missions to China and to the United States and to Europe because exporters will be crucial to our recovery.

“And in my view, in a country of our size, you know, the Prime Minister of the day has to lead from the front on that.”

That could have been John Key talking.

She talked up the cohesion of the Labour/NZ First/Green government as another example of what consensus could achieve.

We have worked to form consensus because that’s how you create lasting change,” she said.

“That has even included reaching across the aisle and on issues like child poverty, climate change, even working with our opposition.”

But that was the last term where she had little choice because unless Labour could call on the votes of NZ First and the Greens it could not get a majority of votes in the House.

POLITIK The prime Minister is somewhere in the middle of this mob of people in a Hamilton mall yesterday

Now with their polls apparently showing them at around 50 per cent and the near-certain prospect that NZ First won’t be back and uncertainty around whether the Greens will survive;  the question becomes whether she will want to form a government with them.

Her answer is enigmatic.

I’m not preempting the decision of voters though they are making their final call on Saturday,” she said.

“We’ll see what they deliver. In the meantime, I’m campaigning for a strong mandate as a majority Labour government.”

Maybe her emphasis yesterday on consensus politics was a shot across the Greens bows intended to warn them that they would be unlikely to get any radical policy accepted by her next time round.

And maybe her turn to the centre is part of an insurance policy to keep Labour’s vote above 50 per cent, so she has the option of being able to leave the Greens out of the Government.

It is a dilemma that the British magazine, “The Economist” has noted in its latest issue.

“Ms Ardern positioned herself as a transforming leader,”it says.

“But to win enough seats to bring about sweeping change, she must secure votes from centrists who are wary of grandiose ideas.

“The more successful she becomes, the less radical she is likely to be.”

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