I’m probably going to be at odds with my fellow Standardistas in this but I support having debates featuring just Clark and Key. One of these two people will lead the country after the election and we deserve to see to them in a forum where they go head to head against each other, rather than only appearing in debates where they are just two of eight voices (that said, they should also appear in the broader leaders’ debates).
I think it’s interesting that Key is keen to have these three head-to-head debates. Wise old voices had been saying that Key would shy away from debates, particularly head-to-heads, because he wouldn’t be able to foot it with Clark. But that’s wrong. National is spending a huge amount on media training for Key. Even when caught by surprise, he is noticeably better than the blathering fool that was once ‘Key unspun’. He has become much better at delivering his pat answers in a convincing manner. He doesn’t look horribly out of his depth as he used to. Watch for Key to disappear for days at a time in the run up to the debates as the media training intensifies.
National’s calculation is that Key doesn’t have to best Clark; he just has to beat low expectations of his own performance. They will be putting a lot of stock in a positive outcome from the debates to give them momentum, which they are lacking at the moment and which the their tax package is unlikely to deliver (seeing as it will either be embarrassingly small or will come at the cost of higher debt or large spending cuts). In other words, expect Key to do much better in the debates than you would expect. National wouldn’t have agreed the head-to-head option if they didn’t expect him to do well.