Helen Clark and John Key went head-to-head, but by ignoring the big issue neither were able to offer a defining moment
It was the moment of engagement that voters have been longing to see. Clark and Key went head-to-head. Old media ran interference. The YouTube generation entered the debate with some tough, relevant questions and
Last night’s leaders’ debate on TV One was a quantum leap forward from the controlled, contrived and mechanically balanced television debates of years gone by.
Helen Clark came into the arena smiling–brimming with confidence after clawing back National’s lead in the latest polls, and points ahead in the campaign after three days in which Labour rolled out a serial package of policy announcements that seemed to catch National flat-footed.
Key entered the debate as an unknown quantity in terms of campaigning performance. He quickly established himself as the man with a plan–well primed to point out the weakness in
Key countered by quickly acknowledging the positive nature of the stated goals, then flicking through sequences of performance flaws before capping them with a simple illustration to show how
There was a productive exchange over competing commitments to tax cuts and the impact of the National package on Kiwisaver. Here Key managed to take some of the sting out of
Key put a significant dent in Clark’s claim to hold the high ground on environmental issues, highlighting
However, leading the world to a carbon neutral future will not take priority over the drive for economic recovery in Key’s agenda, so no green voter points were won there.
A YouTube participant opened the door to a fruitful debate on education priorities with a zinger of a question that branded
When the panel of journalists honed in on the issue, pointing out that one out of every two Maori boys are leaving school without literacy skills,
The real black hole in this debate was the way the leaders were allowed to skim over the major issue of the day–the looming credit crisis.
There was a quick nod to each other on the virtue of the Australian-driven bank deposit guarantee, an effort by Clark to kick the problem into touch as something to be addressed in a post-election budget, and no sign of anything “fresh” or seriously critical coming from Key in terms of crisis management.
It seemed as if both leaders were living on another planet–far away from a world where other political leaders are pouring billions of dollars into their financial systems to keep their economies running.
The crisis in this debate was more personal than global.
At the halfway mark,
By the time she verbalized her complaint about Key’s “barracking”, she had undermined her claim for sympathy by committing the same sin herself.
At the end, she allowed herself to descend into a prolonged bout of bickering, personal abuse that would have had the Speaker screeching for order in question time at Parliament.
In terms of substance, the head-to-head debate was a pretty much a draw. In style, it was a clear win for Key–a first round win reinforced by a viewers’ verdict on One’s late news that ran strongly in his favour.
The defining moment is yet to come.