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Expect the unexpected

Written By: - Date published: 2:36 pm, September 28th, 2008 - 44 comments
Categories: election 2008, helen clark, john key - Tags:

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. 

44 comments on “Expect the unexpected ”

  1. Anita 1

    I’m pretty sure the original plan was to have both Clark/Key debates and eight-leader debates.

  2. oh. well, if that’s right then they i would say they shuld go on the 8 leader debates too.

  3. Rex Widerstrom 3

    I agree Anita / Steve. What’s wrong with both? It’s not like there’s not an almost endless range of crap that couldn’t be bumped to make way for two debates, surely?!

  4. randal 4

    like dude we might miss top gear or some fat sheila taking her clothes off or siamese twins doing it if there wuz poltics on tv. keep poltics out of teevee!

  5. Ianmac 5

    Yes. Lets have the “Truo Duo” as well as the “Super 8” forum. But for goodness sake drown that worm.

  6. Andy 6

    I am extremely dissapointed in their decision, incredibly arrogant.
    I agree with you ianmac the ‘worm’ is terrible and makes a mockery of New Zealand’s television debates.
    Just on another point, it is interesting that the debates in New Zealand have much less impact on voters than the post-debate recap by ‘political commentators’, there was some interesting research done on it at Otago University I think.

  7. randal 7

    I thort paul holmes bought the worm franchise from some crosbytexter outfit in ameroca for a cut rate deal!

  8. Draco T Bastard 8

    I would support the 8 on 8 debate and the JK/HC debate. What I’ve been thoroughly disgusted by is that both JK and HC said that they would only do the head to head debates with each other.

  9. Byron 9

    The problem with having only Labour and National in a debate is that it reinforces the status quo- the idea that Labour and National are the “main” parties and the ones that matter the most. There are 20 parties contesting this election, but the media time will go mostly too two of them, a bit more to another 6, and 12 will be ignored almost completely.
    Will there ever be real change if the media perpetuates the idea that there won’t be?

  10. Draco T Bastard 10

    Byron, it’s not the MSM that are trying to perpetuate the idea that there are only two main parties but National and Labour.

  11. Byron – strange as it may seem, I’m 100% in agreement with Steve here. Either Clark or Key will be PM after the election. It’s important that there is a head-to-head debate without the kind of interruptions and distractions that six other leaders (and one in particular 😉 ) would inevitably produce.

  12. Monty 12

    I am keen to see a minor leders debate – Rodney vs the rest – especially Winston – the Labour poodle. Key of course must face down Clark. I suspect Clark will scream like a burnt witch – while Key will remain cool calm collected.

    The debate between Clark / Key will not change too many voters minds – 50% already have determined their support for Key – so desperate are so many people to be rid of the vile and self serving Clark. But some undecideds will swing with Clark or Key depending on the outcome of the debates. It will be interesting to see if Clark uses the same tactic as she did against Brash thre years ago? I suspect she will – but no matter what people are so over Clark and her manipulation of the country that on 8 November 2008 – she will be gone from our lives. – And good riddence as well.

  13. gobsmacked 13

    “Key will remain cool calm collected.”

    And then the alarm clock went off and poor Monty was jolted from his soothing sleep …

  14. randal 14

    I expect if the Prime Minister debates John Keys that his tongue wil begin to flicker like a frog and he will lose his cool. BEINng a poltician is not like being a big swinging dick in a wall street brokerage. You cant fire people for not performing or not meeting sales targets and sooner or later you must answer the phone. I suspect that john keys has become so used to ignoring reality of people he has ripped off by selling them dud bonds that nobody else wants that he thinks all of life is like that. Morover in the real world you cant gang up on people and trash them and bash them up psychologically just because they lost some change.He in for one rude awakening and If Helen is sufficiently briefed on his shortcomings she will mince him. And Good JOB.

  15. Byron 15

    Certainly true in this situation, however I think generally speaking the media still reports on politics as if this is an FPP election

  16. deemac 16

    I support Steve – only Clark or Key is going to be PM after the election so that’s the main event. And while politicos like us would no doubt watch a debate with all 8, the mass viewing audience for that is nil.

  17. Tim Ellis 17

    I agree with SP. Labour and National account for at least 80% of the vote. They don’t get 80% of the time during the leaders’ debates.

    I don’t want to watch eight leaders from eight parties I’m not voting for. The six minor parties see the leaders’ debates as an opportunity to grand-stand and gang up on a main party leader and carp at the majors. It’s just silly to say there isn’t a difference between Helen Clark and Jim Anderton. It’s all very well giving Rodney Hide the same amount of time to tell the public what he will do if he’s Prime Minister, but that scenario isn’t really realistic, is it?

    There are different motives for not including the minor party leaders. I suspect Helen Clark doesn’t want to be seen on the same stage as Winston. She wants to go head-to-head with Key. Key doesn’t want Anderton, Norman and Peters carping at him while he’s debating with Clark. And neither of them really want to see any of their vote bleed to minor parties, as has often happened in the last few weeks of the campaign.

    Most people don’t watch leaders’ debates to see Jim Anderton, Peter Dunne, Winston Peters, Peter Sharples or Russel Norman speak. They want to see the two potential PMs go head to head.

    Is that undemocratic? I don’t think so. Party leaders will do whatever is in their party’s best interests. Why should they be compelled to deliver extra air-time to parties that are just going to cut into their vote?

    SP I also agree that a lot of people will be surprised at how well Key performs in these debates. Helen Clark has made a virtue of her greater political experience. Many of Labour’s attacks have been about Key’s lack of experience. Labour has ironically lowered public expectations of Key. Clark is regarded as a fairly consummate political performer and a strong debater. Key has been ridiculed by Labour since he became Leader. I agree that the commentators and the public probably don’t expect Key to wipe the floor with Clark (and that’s unlikely to happen). All he has to do is perform credibly.

    I very much doubt he will be absent for extended periods of the campaign though. That sounds like wishful thinking to me.

  18. LGD 18

    We need both debates. Key/Clark as well as Minor parties + Lab/Nats.

    Anyway, my real reason for comment is this article.

  19. Felix 19

    Yep we need both. And more, much more.

    Considering the wall to wall guff on TV it’s a bit of a disgrace that we’re arguing about a couple of debates – there should be lots of debates on TV with all sorts of configurations of debaters.

    Interesting idea here from Seth Godin. (I would argue that half an hour isn’t long enough.)

    “I don’t want to watch eight leaders from eight parties I’m not voting for. ”

    Fair enough sweety but it’s not all about you. You already know you’re voting National so you don’t need to see any debates at all.

  20. Tim Ellis 20

    Felix said:

    Fair enough sweety but it’s not all about you. You already know you’re voting National so you don’t need to see any debates at all.

    I agree exactly that it isn’t all about me, Felix. Yet 80%+ of people are going to vote National or Labour. That says to me that Helen Clark should get 80% of the debating airtime between them.

  21. Craig Ranapia 21

    Nah, Steve. To quote Amy Pohler’s Hillary Clinton: Three and TVNZ should either grow a pair or borrow hers. I’m sorry to tell Key and Clark this, but while one of them will end up Prime Minister, they’re exceedingly unlikely to be there without the support of those tiresome minnows. Could voters should be able to decide the relevance – or otherwise – of their interactions with other party leaders?

    I suspect both want to avoid Pita Sharples or Russell Norman getting a clear shot to turn and ask them some seriously inconvenient questions on live television. Diddums, to coin a phrase. 🙂

    Now, let me say Key and Clark are under no compulsion to participate in any debates at all, just as they’re both frequently declined interview requests from all kinds of media outlets. But I’d have issued a press release saying that the two ‘major leader’ debates had been cancelled, and replaced with extended eight leader debates. If Labour and National’s leaders refused to participate, there would be two empty seats and a moderator explaining why they’re there at regular intervals.

    Their call, but I don’t think it’s a good move if politicians are seen to be dictating election coverage run by ostensibly politically independent media organisations.

  22. Felix 22


    If National gets more votes than Labour at this election, should they get more airtime than Labour at the next one?

  23. Go The Right 23

    Great article in The Herald today on the opposistion to The Anti Smacking Bill.

    I personally believe that this will cost The Green and Labour hugely at the Polls.

    If Key has any sense he should say he is going to ammend and bring in Chester Borrows ammendments so we are in line with Australia will be a real vote winner.

  24. Anita 24

    Go The Right,

    Reference to the article?

    Why do you think it will cost the Greens? I would’ve thought that core Green voters were pretty happy with the repeal.

  25. Phil 25

    While I dont like the way they’ve gone about it – it’s an attitudinal thing – I think it makes good sense not to include Lab and Nat in the ‘other leaders’ debate.

    As I see it, there’s two kinds of undecided voters
    1) Those who are going to vote Labour or National
    2) Those who know they’re ‘left’ or ‘right’ and will either vote for the major party or one they would like to see in coalition.

    Each of the debates caters to those two groups in a way that the ‘full eight’ does not do as well.

  26. Draco T Bastard 26

    Tim Ellis

    Why should they be compelled to deliver extra air-time to parties that are just going to cut into their vote?

    Because that’s what a level playing field means. What you’re really saying is that the full competition for votes be biased in favor of the two main parties which is completely undemocratic.

  27. Phil 27

    By the way Steve, I can’t help but chuckle at the way you’ve carefully prepared the ground for a possible Key ‘victory’ (or at least draw) in the head-to-head debate; If he comes out looking OK, it must be because he’s had media training, and not because he’s actually getting better in front of the camera, of his own accord, through the practice of exposure.

    I put it to you that if he gets the job, he’ll be required to perform on an international stage. I expect any NZ PM to be capable of dealing with the media and putting forward our case on the international stage. If specific media training is required to do that successfully, then so be it.

  28. bill brown 28

    Anita, Rob’s talking about that part of the core Green vote that didn’t know that the Greens voted for the repeal of S59 until they read the National Herald article today.

    This may be an insignificant number of voters.

  29. Felix 29


    I think we deserve better representatives on the international stage than ones who need to be specially trained to look like they know what they’re doing.

    But yes, if we must have a monkey for PM we might as well train it. Sigh…

  30. Phil 30


    Being PM is something for which I consider there to be very few ‘necessary’ qualifications.

    If supplementary skill-sets, like media training, need to be honed with the assistance of professionals, then all well and good.

  31. Go The Right 31


    Will cost them in terms of the Swinging voter I see now on the latest Tv3 poll they are right on 5% no more.


  32. rave 32

    I think Clark wants all the time she can get to shoot down Key. Key thinks he can just press the rabid response buttons about smacking, women, tax, Winston, Australia, families, blah blah and win the groundswell.

    Clark will ask him to explain what he was doing talking to Rail America on the NZ taxpayers tab. What he was doing talking to British Tory tax evader and strategist Aschroft. Why the people of Belize are rebelling against Ascrofts financial fraud. Why a whole bunch of female employees took Merrill Lynch to court and won on sexual harassment charges dating from the 90’s. Why making millions by selling down the Kiwi dollar is not destructive of family life. Why selling kiwibank, NZ rail, kiwisave, and contracting out core state services after a decent interval will not be ripping off taxpayers subsidies and bailouts.

    I think that Clark will need some time, especially as Key will give her several versions of the answers before he remembers which is the correct one, and will repeatedly reinsert the mantra, look I’m just … so that interjections by Rodney on ego, Sharples on a Maori chamber, Dunne on values, Fitzsimons on global warming, etc etc will be so much downtime from exposing Key.

  33. Bob 33

    I love your last sentence. I hope Helen is concerned. If she isn’t she ought to be.

  34. Jen Ferguson 34

    Don’t forget you can ask your own questions of our venerable leaders this election by submitting your video at http://www.youtube.co.nz/debate... 🙂

  35. Draco T Bastard 35


    Being PM is something for which I consider there to be very few ‘necessary’ qualifications.

    IMO, that is patently false. It requires knowledge of all aspects of society. It is, quite simply, the most complex management position known as it is non-specialist. JK is a specialist financier and, in that position, is probably quite good but as PM he’s going to be far out of his depth as his knowledge of everything else won’t measure up.

  36. Felix 36


    That’s what I thought you meant, hence my monkey remark.

    Why set such a low bar? I want someone to represent us on the international stage who actually understands the issues they’re dealing with – not someone who’s been force-fed a few soundbites to regurgitate for the cameras.

  37. Phil 37


    …the most complex management position known as it is non-specialist. JK is a specialist financier and, in that position, is probably quite good but as PM he’s going to be far out of his depth as his knowledge of everything else won’t measure up.

    John was involved in currency valuation and strategy. In order to know roughly where a currency is going, you need to know about the underlying economy/country; how will the export/import sector react to external events? How does the government interact with the market? what’s happen now to consumers/taxpayers? where is the economy headed? where are the potential risks to this country?

    I don’t know about you, but I think a PM should have knowledge or experience in this kind of assessment…

    To put it another way, prior to becoming PM, and a stint as a cabinet minister in the late 80’s, what did Helen Clark do? She certainly had a thorough knowledge of political process, but what about economic management? what about understanding the needs of exporters? what about bargaining and strategic negotiation?

    All learned on the job.


    … not someone who’s been force-fed a few soundbites to regurgitate for the cameras

    Do you really think that media training is all about soundbites, and nothing else?! Or, do you just think that’s what it is when John Key gets that kind of training?

    Very few people are born with an inate talent to be comfortable in front of the camera – I ain’t one of em, for sure. However, I don’t believe that devalues their underlying ideals or policy.

  38. Draco T Bastard 38


    All learned on the job.

    So? She’s been in politics for ~30 years and started there with a degree in politics (which, AFAIK, requires at least some economics). JK’s been in politics for ~6 years and before that he was in a specialist financial position and has a degree in commerce.

    I said JK didn’t have wide enough experience/knowledge to be a PM. If he sticks with being a MP then, in 20 years, he will probably have enough experience/knowledge to be a decent PM. He’s just not going to get that by the election though.

  39. Felix 39


    Essentially we are hiring and firing employees when we go to the polling booth. Let’s say you’re the boss and you’re interviewing prospective employees.

    You ask about relevant experience and the prospective employee says “Well, I’ve graduated from a course in how to present well in a job interview”.

    I don’t consider that to be a relevant qualification.

  40. Phil 40


    How long was David Lange in Parliament before becoming PM? ~6 years.
    How long was Dubya in politics (Govenor of Texas, various other offices)? ~ Most of his life.

    Go back further and you get William Taft – widely regarded as the worst US president ever, despite spending a lifetime in Congress (or Senate? it’s one or the other…)

    I’m reminded of the line in “The King and I” which says something about ‘being old enough to know that age and wisdom do not necessarily go hand in hand’


    On a practical level, if they’re at the interview you’ve seen the CV beforehand. So, you already think the person has relevant skills, or they wouldn’t have got the interview in the first place!

    Focussing on Key, you seem to be insinuating that he has no relevant skills to be PM… which kind of beg’s the question, what do you think is relevant?

  41. Draco T Bastard 41


    How long was David Lange in Parliament before becoming PM? ~6 years.

    Yeah, and look at how much of a balls up that was. Although, I would say that Lange, being a lawyer, had better experience for PM than key as a financier.

    I’m reminded of the line in “The King and I’ which says something about ‘being old enough to know that age and wisdom do not necessarily go hand in hand’

    I’d agree with that. Some people do have a better innate ability than others but I’ve seen nothing from JK to indicate that he has any more ability to be PM than a well trained dog.

  42. Felix 42

    I’m sure he has skills, he’s got a lot of experience in management and much of it is transferable.

    As Draco pointed out though he has little or no experience applying those skills in a governance context which is quite a unique environment in many ways.

    And just as a gut response from me, I don’t think he’s really committed to spending a couple of decades getting his teeth into this politics game. I just don’t think he’s that interested beyond scoring the top job for a bit.

    There’s a kind of corporate viewpoint which suggests that government is just like a business and PM is just a CEO position. Through such a frame it would appear that anyone with enough upper-management experience should be able to step into the PM’s job for a few years before moving on to the next placement, just like in the corporate world.

    I guess I just don’t buy into that definition of government.

  43. Matthew Pilott 43

    There’s a kind of corporate viewpoint which suggests that government is just like a business and PM is just a CEO position. Through such a frame it would appear that anyone with enough upper-management experience should be able to step into the PM’s job for a few years before moving on to the next placement, just like in the corporate world.

    Felix – running with that concept for a minute, what do CEOs get those huge bonuses for these days? Well it’s not for improving the long term prospects of a business, but delivering to the shareholders in the short term. Often by making massive service or spending cuts, firing workers and leaving a mess for the next lot.


    A few parallels staring to coalesce?

  44. Felix 44

    MP, yep – I suspect to Key it would just be “business as usual” in that respect.

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