The New Zealand prime minister has dismissed his competitor’s popularity with voters as “stardust” in one of their final meetings before the general election in two weeks time.
In a highly charged debate in Christchurch, Bill English and Jacinda Ardern clashed over the future of the country with the Nationals leader appearing to fuel his opponent’s soaring popularity.
English, who has never polled well with voters and has been described as having “the personality of a rock”, tried to downplay Ardern’s strong showing in the polls as “stardust”.
“Now the stardust has settled, you’re starting to see the policy … as an alternative to a successful New Zealand, you’re being asked to vote for a committee,” said English in his opening statement.
But Ardern immediately bit back at English’s comment in a retort that is quickly becoming her unofficial campaign slogan in New Zealand.
“This stardust won’t settle, because none of us should settle,” Ardern said.
“None of us should settle. Christchurch shouldn’t settle. New Zealand shouldn’t settle for anything less than taking on head-on the challenges that we face this election.”
An internet poll on Friday by international survey firm SSI and commissioned by Newsroom put the gap between Labour and National at 15 points – with Labour polling at 45 and National at a catastrophic 30.
The survey of more than 500 people showed Ardern was polling particularly well among women and the young, with 53% of women choosing to support Labour compared with National’s 22%. Those aged 18 to 24 favoured Labour by 65% compared to 14% for National. A poll before the debate had showed Labour leading 43% to 39%.
Ardern, who at 37 is the youngest leader to ever take charge of the beleaguered Labour party in New Zealand, has experienced an astonishing surge in popularity since taking over on 1 August, increasing her party’s polling results by 19 points in just over a month.
The stardust comment sparked online comment and the inevitable meme.
After the debate Ardern was asked if she found being described as “stardust” offensive, but she took the slight with good humour.
“It’s a robust campaign and I did ask for an explanation of what it meant … perhaps it’s from being a child of the 80s, stardust didn’t seem that offensive to me.” she said.
The Labour party even latched onto it.
The New Zealand Herald’s political columnist Barry Soper said Ardern’s “stardust” effect risked becoming a “sandstorm” for the National party, with poll after poll showing Labour’s sustained and increasing popularity with voters.
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