Having spent the weekend in Napier, resolutely not pondering anything political, I got back to Gisborne last night and finally got around to watching The Nation’s minor party leaders’ debate.
Policy-wise, there was nothing to learn. This was a show devoted almost entirely to the spouting of pre-prepared talking points. Here’s my view of how the various leaders performed:
Colin Craig v Winston Peters: This was perhaps the most important clash. Having initially been excluded from the debate lineup, and making an entrance purely because of a High Court injunction, Colin Craig needed to do well to justify his presence. He’d argued in Court that the Conservative Party would be negatively impacted if Winston Peters was given free reign to speak on conservative policy platforms – essentially admitting that the policy platforms of NZ First and the Conservatives are largely identical. Both parties are duking it out for the same pool of voters, and that pool isn’t large enough for both to make it over the 5% threshold.
So who won? In my opinion, it was Peters by a long shot. He wasn’t in particularly hot form, but it was more than enough. Perhaps the defining moment was when moderator Lisa Owen described Mr Craig as Peters’ doppelganger, and asked him to describe why anyone should vote Conservative rather than NZ First. Craig couldn’t come up with a single policy reason. Instead, looking somewhat miffed at the question, he said that the Conservatives were clear that they would work with the party with the most votes, rather than play games a la NZ First. If that’s the Conservative Party’s major point of distinction from NZ First, then it’s game over for Colin Craig.
Winston Peters v Metiria Turei: Given Mr Peters’ long-held antipathy towards the Greens, fireworks were expected between Peters and Turei. As it happened, when Peters was offered the chance to put the boot into the Greens, he declined, instead saying that he gets on with everybody. This was then followed up with, “I get on with everybody who has a reasonable view on a reasonable thing”. What that means is anyone’s guess, but there’s no doubt that Peters is happily engaged in his favourite electioneering past-time – keeping everyone guessing.
Colin Craig v Metiria Turei: As a property developer, Colin Craig is not a fan of “green tape” holding up development. Plus, as Winston’s stunt double, it’s only to be expected that Mr Craig would be anti-Greens. Unfortunately, for Mr Craig, Ms Turei owned him. She held tightly to the party line (“National’s pollution economy”), while Craig’s interjections were banal and resulted in perhaps the defining image of the night – Turei haughtily performing a ‘talk to the hand’ in Craig’s direction.
Te Ururoa Flavell v Hone Harawira: Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that Hone Harawira has natural charisma. Te Ururoa Flavell, not so much. With everything at stake for the two party leaders in their respective seats, and with both parties fighting for the same pool of voters, neither could afford to have a bad debate. They both stayed on message, with Harawira banging the drum of Maori inequality, and Flavell emphasising a) the real gains made by the Maori Party due to being at the table, and b) that his party is not a proxy of the National Party. Unfortunately for Flavell, there was no passion to his approach. Harawira had the emotional message and the better soundbites. A win on points for Harawira.
Jamie Whyte v the world: It wasn’t a good debate for Jamie Whyte. He was stilted and amateur. Sure, he had some good lines, accusing others of being “communistic” and “neo-racist”, but you get the feeling that he rather prefers the safety of a lecture theatre, where he can espouse his dry rationality to his heart’s content, free from the indignity of moderators who interrupt, opponents who interject, and people in general who laugh at you while you’re talking.
Peter Dunne v ???: In his role as Captain Sensible, Peter Dunne exists in his own separate space. No one bothers feuding with him, because his strongest held view appears to be that people should be able to decide at what age they begin claiming superannuation. And that’s basically how it played out on The Nation. Dunne was there, but you’d struggle to remember much of what he said, apart from that he wants people to be able to decide at what age they begin claiming superannuation. There was some half-hearted sledging from Winston Peters, when Dunne described the anti-land sales position as “xenophobic”, but Peters didn’t seem to think it was really worth his time to bother directing much bile in Dunne’s direction.
Perhaps the most interesting part of The Nation was the panel discussion between Brook Sabin, Bryce Edwards and Lisa Owen over which leaders should have been part of the debate. Which says a lot about the debate itself…