Is Labour going to do a France on John Key?

On paper National ought to romp home in the election on 26 November, at least that's what the polls have been telling us for three years now.

The All Blacks were supposed to trounce a divided and poorly performing French team in the final. Someone forgot to tell the French who fronted up serious big time.

Labour is doing the same. Their television opening was stylish and reconnected with the heritage of the labour movement. We care, it said, and we aren't going to sell state assets. National looked like a one man band.

Of course it makes sense for National to feature John Key. He's National's strongest card, but if, (and it's a sizeable if), his credibility is damaged, the party's strongest weapon is blunted. Turn your opponent's strength into a weakness. The Chinese strategist Sun Tzu would have told Labour that.

Key is still the country's most popular politician by a country mile, and shooting him interacting with supposedly ordinary folks in an audience setting for National's opening television broadcast was sound thinking, but the execution was poor. Labour's opening looked and sounded far more interesting even if the narrative glossed over a lot of bitter history - like the 1984-90 period.

Labour is trying to do in a month what it should have completed over the last three years - to reconnect with the base of conservative working class and lower middle class voters that Helen and the social reforming set in Labour so strongly alienated in the last term of the labour government.

Yet National has its problems too.  Business, which ought to be solid behind National isn't convinced National has an economic plan. The Deloitte-Business NZ election survey unveiled on Monday found that only 34.5 per cent of businesses thought the government had a "clear, well understood economic plan".

In the first of the leaders' debates on TV on Monday night, Mr Goff performed well. Much of the online comment was that Mr Goff performed better, and that Mr Key looked embarrassed when Goff stuck it to him over broken promises about GST from the last election, and on asset sales.

Like the French rugby team, Mr Goff and Labour have absolutely nothing to lose. The polls say that they are toast, and that means Mr Goff's leadership will go down the plughole if he loses badly.

But there might just be a chance for both the leader and the party if he gets as close as the French did to the All Blacks. And of course, if Labour wins, as the French so very nearly did, it will be Mr Key who'll be looking for reasons to stay on.

A mate of mine, dubbed the last 20 minutes of the RWC final, "the longest 20 minutes in eight years." He was right. For Mr Key this might turn out to be the longest four weeks of his brief but glittering political career. Right now, it really is game on!