Winner: Phil Goff
Scores: Goff 79 | Key 76
Judge: Ray D’Cruz
Opposition Leader Phil Goff (Labour) won the Second NZ Leaders’ Debate of the 2011 election by gaining an advantage over Prime Minister, John Key (National) in several important arguments. (View it here)
This debate was very different debate to the first one, with fewer issues being explored in more depth. It led to more satisfying debate, with speakers having the time to argue, rebut, use examples and distinguish themselves accordingly.
While Mr Key’s opening combined neatly vision with specificity, Mr Goff went straight for one issue: asset sales. It was as if polling had directed him to the issue, such was his focus. It wasn’t compelling.
Despite this Mr Goff quickly gained ascendency from the first two arguments (child poverty and New Zealand’s OCED rankings). On both of these arguments he was able to marshall facts about tax rates and costs of living while weaving a message about fairness. While he quoted social welfare groups and departmental reports, Mr Key, despite starting well on the issue, lost focus. At times he spoke with vagueness: “you know and I know”, “every employer knows” and “a fair bit of it”. That’s not really good enough in a leaders’ debate.
The issue of employment and the minimum wage was hard fought, and the winner of it probably depends on whether you think a $2 raise in the minimum wage costs jobs or is jobs neutral. I don’t think anyone could say for certain after the scrap. Asset sales was also relatively neutral in the debate as Mr Key was well-prepared and opened strongly on the issue. Perhaps Mr Goff gained a small advantage when the debate deviated from the present to the future and Mr Key uncomfortably ruled out a raft of future asset sales.
Mr Key closed better than Mr Goff. He handled the final issue of coalition partners better than Mr Goff, drawing on his capacity to work left and right as a “centrist” government and flatly ruling out a coalition with NZ First. Mr Key also closed as he began, with a neat summary of key policies. Mr Goff focused on asset sales again, and spoke vaguely about “hard decisions”, “not walking away from hard issues”, “leadership” and “honesty”. It was reminiscent of some of Jim Hacker’s finer oratorical moments. It wasn’t a great conclusion, but the advantage Mr Goff accrued in the guts of the debate was enough to declare him the winner.
Yet again, the “worm” proved to be a distraction, misleading and an insult to voter intelligence – and the “worm app” provided nothing except a platform for party apparatchiks to do their thing.