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My thoughts on the TV3 leaders’ debate

Now that I’ve actually seen the TV3 debate, here are my impressions of it.  What this isn’t, though, is a consideration of how well the debate was run (though I’d say it was better than the first TV One debate), nor is it an assessment of whose policies are better, or for whom you should vote—so don’t read into it too much.

Part 1
Clark made a relatively good start, at least compared to Key, outlining her response to the international financial crisis.  Key’s start was fickety, mainly because he didn’t start with his plans.  He would have gained more by addressing the prevalent question—how would he deal with the economy—before he started rattling on about the deficiencies of the Labour-led government.  His answer, when he got round to it, lacked reasoning, at least in comparison to Clark.  How would a focus on growth—presumably one that should always be present—be of specific help to the looming crisis?  Key spent too little on too many things to be convincing.  Clark.

Part 2
The two leaders, I think, were roughly even on the plans they properly outlined at the beginning of this part, though Clark perhaps had a marginal edge in that she spoke in a slightly more logical manner.  Key finally explained why his broadband policy is so important—something I’d been wanting to hear since he first brought it up in Part 1.  But it was the flip-flop discussion that defined this part for me.  Key was able to fully justify his alleged flip-flop on Working For Families package, explaining what’s different between then and now.  Clark’s explanation of her flip-flop on entrenching the Maori seats was less convincing; it was basically “National made us change our mind”.  Key.

Part 3
Clark had a good, straight response to the suggestion that she was coming to the “end of her natural life as a prime minister”, making it clear what she thought the question of leadership was.  Key’s response to the suggestion that the faces on his front bench undermined the freshness of his party, initially at least, wasn’t a response.  With nothing more than “we haven’t defined our Cabinet yet”, he launched straight into why the government needs to change, which wasn’t what I wanted to hear at the time.  He took so long to allude to his “stamp on the party”, that it could barely be regarded as an answer.  Clark.

Part 4
It doesn’t say much about this part that the most exciting exchange in it was when, in John Campbell’s words, the leaders were “both desperately trying to claim credit for one of the least popular pieces of legislation”.  Both leaders gave unconvincing answers to the substantive questions put to them.  Key did nothing more than reiterate his “capping the bureaucracy”.  I hoped to get an idea of where he sees the line between enough and too much, or maybe at least a reference to what the bureaucracy does.  Clark was worse—she just rambled on about being a fresh spirit.  I was hoping to hear about why voters shouldn’t be afraid of a nanny state, why the urban myths she alluded to are really myths.  Key was pushing it a bit when he talked about the government “storming through our front doors”, but Clark was pushing it more when she accused Key of being in climate change denial.  Key.

Part 5
I was rather unimpressed when Key’s best response to “what’s the difference between Bill English and Michael Cullen” was “New Zealand needs to change”.  When the discussion turned to the MMP environment, Clark did well asserting her command of the system by contrasting “relationships” with “coalitions”, and then showing why the five-headed monster wasn’t such a bad thing after all.  But Key managed to fight off the impression he was a noob to MMP, topped off with an outline of his foci as prime minister.  I felt his “nine years wasn’t enough time” was a weak shot, and Clark was quick to point out a lot of progress had been made.  Clark’s Roger Douglas call was just cheap, with Key equally quick to respond.  It was a tough call, but calling it a draw’s the cop-out option.  Clark—just.

Holistically, again, I have to say I wasn’t moved.  Overall, I think they came off pretty even.

Nonetheless, even though the flaws of calling a debate on a part-by-part basis are many, fatal, and it simply shouldn’t be done, I’m going to do it anyway: I thought Clark had parts 1, 3 and 5 (just), and Key parts 2 and 4.  I leave the maths to you.

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