Epic Struggle: Tonight New Zealanders were privileged to witness a truly outstanding encounter between two highly effective politicians. Leaving aside its ridiculous "poll", TVNZ is to be congratulated for screening one of the best leaders' debates in decades.
WHAT A BLOODY SHAME. For 59 minutes TVNZ had hosted one of the best leaders' debates in decades. In spite of many Labour supporters reservations, Mike Hosking chaired the encounter with consummate professionalism. He made sure the debate was free-flowing, allowing both leaders ample opportunity to demonstrate both their command of the relevant facts and their skill at turning those facts to their own and their party's advantage.
But then, in the final minute of the show, TVNZ broadcast the results of a meaningless "poll" of self-selecting respondents purporting to show that John Key had "won" the debate by a margin of 69 percent to 31 percent. Rather than simply allowing New Zealanders to argue among themselves in the best democratic tradition about which man had been the more impressive, the state broadcaster could not forebear from settling the question for them. Immensely satisfying if you were a National Party supporter, utterly infuriating if you were backing Labour.
Because there is absolutely no disputing the fact that David Cunliffe acquitted himself superbly in tonight's debate. He was disarmingly courteous and generous in his interactions with the Prime Minister, but frankly, he could afford to be. Of the two politicians he was easily the more fluent and the more persuasive. Where the Prime Minister aggressively asserted, David Cunliffe calmly and good-humouredly presented the evidence. And, when the moment came for a knockout blow, the Leader of the Opposition was not found wanting.
The "killer punch" came in the discussion about selling New Zealand farmland to foreigners. Responding to Hosking's challenge about no New Zealanders being willing to pay the $70 million Shanghai Pengxin was willing to offer for Lochinver Station, David Cunliffe simply invited the Chairman to "roll the logic forward" and in a bravura demonstration of his economic skills set forth the blunt facts about how such a market would inevitably and permanently bar New Zealanders from ever being able to afford to purchase their own land. Even John Key felt obliged to congratulate his opponent on his spectacular rhetorical performance.
For those not blinded by tribal political loyalties, this was the moment when Cunliffe "won" the debate. Economics and business have always been the Prime Minister's preferred battle-ground. But, even here, in the area of John Key's greatest expertise, David Cunliffe bettered him. For all those New Zealanders who have yet to make up their minds, that extraordinary exchange should be their "Aha!" moment. John Key is a highly accomplished politician and a fine debater, but tonight he met his match. Tonight, for the first time since he became National's leader, John Key lost.
If I were to score the debate out of 100 I would give 60 points to David Cunliffe and 40 points to John Key.
Will that be the judgement of punditry in general? We shall have to wait and see. TVNZ, however, with its meaningless "poll", clearly intends to tell New Zealand that John Key was the victor. As citizens with minds of our own, and as viewers who had just witnessed a truly outstanding encounter between two highly effective politicians, we deserved better than to see the public broadcaster needlessly undermine an otherwise splendid event.
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.