I missed the first half of last night's leaders' "debate" -- I was at Auckland's Town Hall with the APO happily lapping up the treats in store for next season, thanks very much -- but I'm still surprised to see so many so serious about it being a victory for John Key. Key won the debate say most commentators, and most NZers surveyed.
Did they see the same second half I did?
I'm surprised on two counts. First, the format wasn't really a debate at all, simply a two-headed interview -- but with the 'YouTube' participation the interview questions were at least better than Sainsbury can normally manage -- but every time a real debate actually seemed about to break out between the actual participants, with some real emotion and real points being made, bloody Sainsbury help up the hands and started waving the chequered flag at them both.
Someone should tell him he's not the main event.
And second, John Key's "interventions" when Helen Clark was talking -- necessary, since Sainsbury appeared to have no intention of offering a "follow-up" chance to respond -- seemed to me to be both weak and pathetic, setting his high pitched squeak in unfortunate contrast to Helen's authoritative lower-pitched contralto.
I say "seemed to me," because other commentators disagreed. The Herald's Claire Trevett for example thought Key's responses showed "quite a talent for ruining Helen Clark's more fanciful moments":
Asked whether the student allowance policy was a "blatant election bribe," Clark starts to reply with the "grandiose" "I've always had a dream" [a dream it's taken nine years, a close election and incipient economic collapse to "afford"] before going on to talk about the privileges her generation had.
John Key happily pops the bubble, noting "my holiday job was cleaning out the chickens."
What Trevett thought the perfect response, those in my house thought weak and pathetic, and utterly irrelevant to the fact it is so clearly a blatant election bribe. Why can't he call a bribe a bribe, for goodness sake?
Two questions in particular interested me. Shane Taurima asked Key to clarify his policy on abolishing the Maori seats, which Pita Sharples maintains Key had indicated privately was up for grabs -- something suggesting some kind of mendacity in the public policy. I found Key's response on this unconvincing, and unclear. Waffle designed to obfuscate.
The other question came from a YouTuber, asking both leaders to comment on the brutal murder of Navtej Singh. This drew a response that shows a genuine sea change: after initial hand-wringing both responded that "New Zealanders are entitled to use reasonable force to defend themselves." Yes, I'll say that again: "New Zealanders are entitled to use reasonable force to defend themselves."
That's progress. Definite progress. It's been there in the Crimes Act but recognised more in the breach than the observance" -- we can only hope the attitude quickly makes its way into policing policy.
How tragic that good New Zealanders had to die to make it happen.