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Winner of the second leader’s debate? Those not watching and those not there. by underground

TV3’s John Campbell did a marginally better job than One’s Mark Sainsbury to keep the debate civil, but Helen Clark and John Key were again intent on talking over each other and providing viewers with ample reason to reach for the remote. For those of us who stayed turned there were moments of entertainment, particularly when Campbell commented that it was unprecedented for two politicians to argue over who was responsible for negotiating such an unpopular law as the repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act. Witty remarks aside, there was very little substance to the exchanges between the Labour and National leader.

Again analysts are giving the points to Key simply because he didn’t lose. Well he certainly didn’t win either. But Clark’s effort will not slow the momentum National have and after tonight, I fear a National victory may be even closer.

Although I disagree with the Herald’s Audrey Young that Key was the victory, she hits the nail on the head with her summary of the debate:

Save me from the lists in leaders’ debates. Political leaders are so conscious of being interrupted after their one-sentence sound-bite that they cram the party manifesto into their answers. John Key and Helen Clark are both equally afflicted.

Key’s policy list however reads exactly as it would if there were no economic crisis (RMA, curb bureaucracy, tax cuts) and Clark’s policy lists leaves you wondering what she would have had had there been no crisis (emergency mini-budget; infrastructure projects brought forward, job search allowance, retraining allowance).

Key and Clark were not at all inspiring. The real winner of the debate were the small parties. New Zealanders have been robbed by the decision not to include the smaller parties in the leaders debate, as I am sure Key and Clark would have faced some harsher questions than they received tonight or in the first debate. The minor parties will not mind being neglected now, as voters were given several reasons to support them after tonight. As was commented on by each of TV3’s expert panel, Labour and National look very similar. Considering this, voters should cast their votes to the smaller parties they wish to influence either of the sterile main parties. Clark did show her experience by using the threat of Act’s influence on National to warn voters, although it remains to be seen how effective this tactic will be.

So what can we take from this debate? Nothing new about policy, that’s for sure. This was once again a battle of impressions, with John Key attempting to paint Clark as tired and Clark alluding to National’s “secret agenda” and not so “fresh” reality. In this battle Clark was the clear winner. Although Key did point out areas where Labour have arguably failed over the past nine years, particular regarding Helen’s dream and her inability to accomplish it in three terms, he failed to inspire a promising alternative. Instead, it was his political naivety which was unveiled. Often Clark would correct him on history or point out the fallacy of his assertions.

The one area where Key looked really ridiculous, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been picked up on, was when Campbell asked about Labour and the “nanny state”. Key remarked that Labour was “storming through your front door” (or something to that effect) imposing rules on people’s private lives. When pressed to give an example Key put forward the imposing of energy saving lightbulbs. Clark must have been stoked this was the best he could come up with, as she rightly said the EU and even Howard’s Australia had made the switch long before New Zealand. Key replied that New Zealand should not do something just because other countries do, which contradicts any notion of being a fast follower on climate issues. Clark then proceeded to take Key to task on his party’s climate credentials and asserted they have returned to being climate change deniers like they were not so long ago. and she has a point. What measures do Key plan to make? He says he will make no measures that risk Kiwi jobs, but who stands to lose their job over energy saving light bulbs? And if they save energy, no doubt they cost less to run, saving hard-working Kiwis money. And what the hell does this have to do with the “nanny state”?

Key assertion that his party is “fresh” also resulted in egg on his face, as it was pointed out, both by Campbell and Clark, that his party is anything but fresh. Whilst trying to use the Roger Douglas card Clark also linked the health, social service and other cuts of the nineties to the National politicians that Key will be taking to the cabinet table, highlighting that National is the same party as the ruthless one Clark succeeded. Key claimed Clark was stuck in the eighties, but Clark retorted that so are his colleagues, many of whom have been in parliament as long as her.

Considering his lack of political convictions in the past and the revelation that he did not vote whilst abroad, which was up until very recently, I struggle to understand why Key is running to be Prime Minister. TV3 Panelist Linda Clark might be wondering the same sort of thing after his lacklustre performance, asking Key “do you want this job?” When the debate turned to his experiences and the “freshness” of the party, he changed the subject and repeated his policy mantras. As the one question I was keen he answered, I would be disappointed if this man became this country’s PM.

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[…] Winner of the second leader’s debate? Those not watching and those not there. […]

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