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Plain English - Fri, 14 Jun 2002

Plain English - A Weekly Update From Bill English, National Party Leader

An issues-based campaign

Campaigning is the best part of politics. The public actually get interested in politics for a few, brief glorious weeks, and the politicians are reminded of the awesome power of democracy - thousands of people making up their own mind, instead of the weekly diet of media making it up for them. I'll be everywhere running a vigorous, fast-moving campaign with the people, rather than the measured careful presidential style.

At any rate, National has had a good start. Labour made the mistake of trying to dress up their opportunism, when it would have been better to openly say they thought it suited them now. I am proud to lead the first Opposition in the Westminster system to bring down a Government on points of order. There is no greater authority for this than Helen Clark. Talkback radio in particular has been strongly against the snap election.

Winston Peters said Labour threw in the towel, and Rod Donald had harsh words for Labour. Quite unexpectedly, Labour go into this campaign with no friends except for Jim Anderton. In the final vote to adjourn Parliament, the Greens and NZ First abstained. They can only succeed by taking Labour votes off them, not by supporting them. In '99 National had to deal with 4 parties opposing them. Now Labour has to do it. How did Helen manage to lose all her friends so quickly?

Setting the bar too high

Labour have set the bar at 50% of the vote - they have to stay there to pull off the gamble. Already they are losing more solid Labour votes to us over issues like tougher sentencing and resolving Treaty claims. As Labour drop into the 40s tactical National voters will face the reality - Labour simply can't get there on their own.

Simple question - simple answer

As the campaign progresses, Labour will have to answer this question - will they do a deal with the Greens - yes or no? With support from National, Labour could have refused to bring in the GM moratorium last year. Instead, they chose to do a deal with the Greens. If Labour had stuck to its principles then it wouldn't have a problem now. Now the Greens are simply telling Labour to do what it has already agreed once to do - continue the moratorium. Of course, Helen Clark will do a deal with the Greens; she has done it before on the GM issue and she will need the Greens to be in Government.

Issues matter

We will be campaigning on issues. We expect Labour to campaign on polling - "vote for us because we are ahead." I started campaigning two weeks ago and I've had an excellent response. I've run public meetings, visited schools and workplaces. Students like our bursary policy (A bursary $2000, B Bursary $1000). Everyone supports quick resolution of Treaty claims, and tougher sentences. There is growing support for our policy to rerun the referendum on MMP, and it will grow further when people realise it's an abomination of democracy to expect them to vote for policies they oppose to get stable government.

The brave debater

Helen Clark has avoided head-to-head debate with me since I became leader - and it's not for lack of trying on our part. I'm looking forward to it.

Restoring the airforce

New Zealanders are telling me everywhere I go that they strongly oppose Labour's decision to scrap the Skyhawks. This week, I released our defence policy, which commits to restoring an air combat wing by working with Australia. We want closer military relationships with Australia and the US. We need to lift our pitiful level of spending on defence and pull our weight in the region, rather than bludging off our neighbours. It's very important to build public consensus around the defence issue. Labour didn't bother with the Skyhawks, and the public have bitterly resented this. We will make sure the public is involved and that defence policy has agreement around it, rather than becoming a divisive issue. National's Epsom MP Richard Worth, who has a long involvement with the military, has taken over the defence spokesmanship from the retiring Max Bradford.

Thank you to the public

I want to thank the New Zealand public for the enormous support that they have given me over the last week, after the Fight for Life event.

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