OK, here's some fun -- I'm going to live blog my impressions of the first televised debate between Labour's Prime Minister Helen Clark and National leader John Key. It's my first time viewing one of these in NZ, and will be interesting to compare it to the American counterparts. Shame they're not including the minor party leaders in this as they actually can have much more impact on politics here than in America, but so it goes....
7.00 Good lord, this set looks exactly like the game show "The Weakest Link." Scary. The blue lighting on the background audience is odd.
7.02 Wow, Helen Clark's voice is REALLY deep.
7.03 And John Key's is less deep. He keeps bobbing his head from left to right.
7.04 Couldn't moderator Mark Sainsbury have bothered to shave? He looks like a hedgehog.
7.06 I do like the format of the questions -- filmed on YouTube and submitted by Kiwi citizens here and overseas. It kind of makes this feel more participatory.
7.09 Why do Key and Sainsbury call her "Helen Clark" on every reference? It sounds weird.
7.15 Yikes, a lot more shouting and going back and forth than in the US debates. Which is good, because it feels like they're really debating, but is bad because there's a fair amount of talking over each other and "Helen you're wrong" combined with "No John, you're wrong."
7.17 Very heavy focus on economy. So far, Key is kind of presenting the everyman view a bit more while Clark is coming off a tad surly.
7.17 Hey, they have commercials here!
7.24 It's curious -- Clark makes a passing reference to releasing housing affordability policy tomorrow. I'm still not used to how, less than a month before the election, all the parties are just unveiling their policies. Campaigns here are definitely far more foreshortened than the U.S.
7.28 Suddenly, all hell breaks out -- an argument over shower nozzles! Awesome. (A rumoured plan to reduce shower water pressure that has been badly received.) Again, very squabbly and in-your-face arguing -- "You might be used to shouting people down at home, you're not shouting me down," Clark tells Key, and the audience audibly grumbles.
7.30 Sainsbury goes off on a crusade about money - "Do you feel rich?" he asks. Clark is a bit nonplussed, while Key turns it into a campaign pivot.
7.43 A debate about climate change is interesting, focusing on NZ's "clean green" image and the cost it takes to maintain that. However, Key starts to lose me by asking "What's the point" of a tiny country like NZ leading the world in being carbon-free? Yeah, we're no China, but still...
7.45 Some goofballs start beat-boxing for no particular reason in the middle of their YouTube question, which comes off really geeky.
7.53 Tough words on crime, but neither really comes across with a sterling answer on a rising problem in NZ, especially in Auckland.
8.00 A curious digression into the 1981 Springboks Rugby Tour which is a defining moment in NZ history, especially since it involves rugby (and apartheid). Trying to pin Key down on what he thought on an event 27 years ago (when he was 20 and as he admits, it wasn't that important an issue to him at that time) seems a bit like a kiwi "Ayers moment," i.e. much ado about nothing much. Clark continues to be fairly aggressive, often to her detriment I feel.
8.08 Final 20 minutes before any Maori issues are brought up.
8.22 It's curious for me that Clark is basically using the same argument as John McCain, even though politically they have next to nothing in common -- it's all about experience and the record.
8.25 Finally a questioner brings up the exclusion of the other six party leaders. I guess they have been included in the past and Clark refers to it as being a "bit like a game show." She's seen the set!
8.30 So it ends as it began, with shouting at each other.
Final thoughts: Well, interesting. I've been saying all along I'm a bit less invested in this election than I am the American one, where I've known since March or so I was voting for Obama. Politically, I'm simpatico with most of Labour's positions, but was curious to hear more from John Key. Frankly, Key was better than I thought, while Clark was less than she often is capable of. She's a terrific politician and a very good speaker, but today she seemed to let Key get under her skin and was too combative and borderline rude. There was too much interrupting and shouting by both candidates, though. Clark looks great when she smiles but spent a lot of time scowling, whereas Key came off fairly relaxed and more articulate than he has in news segments. He was often artfully vague though, like most politicians.
I'm fairly sure who and what I'm voting for myself, but it's been good to get an idea what will happen if -- as the polls seem to show -- Key does become Prime Minister.
Grades: Key B, Clark B-