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Chris vs Chris.
The first leaders' debate.
So it’s kind of obligatory to start with the boxing analogy…
In the red corner, you’ll know him from his red hair and his red heart, the champion of achievable socialism, weighing in when given the opportunity - it’s Chris.
And fighting out of the blue corner, you’ll know him from his love for loosening his trousers and taking off his belt after a hard day..
Hang on, sorry that should have been “enthusiasm for freeing the squeezed middle” - I think one of my writers might have been enjoying themselves. Weighing in whenever he likes - it’s Christopher.
The first televised leaders debate opened with an excited Jessica Mutch McKay (JMM) on her big night, telling Chris Hipkins (Chippy) and Christopher Luxon (Luxon) that the first segment would be on their vision for New Zealand.
You’d expect a sports commentator to be excited announcing a big game, so why not a political editor? The question we all wanted answered was whether she was here as a fan or a referee. Many questioned whether Jack Tame would have made a better host after his searing interviews recently, where for once the media didn’t let either leader off the hook.
JMM started by inviting Luxon to tell us how wonderful his tax cuts were. Then she switched to Chippy, telling him that his Fruit and Veg GST change wasn’t going to cut it. An interesting opening from the moderator, I thought.
JMM and Luxon then double teamed Chippy on whether his cuts would be passed on to consumers, or just swallowed by supermarkets. This was after no challenge had been put to Luxon on his tax plan, during his opening.
To begin with everytime Chippy spoke Luxon talked loudly over the top of him. Whereas Chippy let Luxon speak when it was his turn.
As for JMM she spoke to Chippy as if she was the Spanish Inquisition, there to uncover his undoubted sins, and to Luxon as if she was trying to pick him up in a bar. She challenged Chippy on his answers, but let Luxon just run with his prepared speech while ignoring her questions.
As she went to the first ad break JMM gushed how much fun this was for her. I can only assume she thought she was still addressing Luxon, as I can’t imagine many viewers were enjoying it.
Hipkins was trying to provide sensible answers but being spoken over. Luxon looked like an android, parroting his bullet points, and even descending into using the phrase Coalition of Chaos - what a depressing indication of his view on the public’s appetite, let alone right, for an intelligent debate.
After the break JMM talked of how important leadership was in the age of pandemics and climate emergencies.
There was a nice moment when the leaders were asked to name something they admired about each other. Both spoke warmly and genuinely of the other’s commitment to family, and taking on a difficult role. It was hard to imagine this happening, in such a friendly way, in many other countries. It was very Kiwi.
I especially liked the way Luxon spoke of Chippy being up front about his family situation when he took on the role. In fairness I can’t recall Luxon ever trying to use it against him. Now that might sound obvious, and just basic human decency, but I’m sure it would’ve been the case if Luxon’s predecessor, Judith Collins, was in the role.
But back to the contest, and leadership should be an area of advantage for Chippy. Some might argue that Luxon’s experience as a CEO is relevant, but it’s not like the leadership experience Chippy has from dealing with Covid and Cyclones.
The remit of a CEO is to ensure as much wealth as possible goes to the shareholders, the wealthy, while paying the workers, the rest of us, as little as possible. While that might be the sort of leadership Luxon is planning to bring to the country, no one, other than the wealthy, should see it as desirable.
JMM asked the two candidates to talk about which leader they’d worked under that they respected most. Chippy went first and started talking about both Jacinda Ardern and Helen Clark, but JMM reminded him that this being a game show, apparently, she would have to push him on a final answer. I’m not entirely clear on what good was served by that approach, other than it perhaps making for good headlines.
Luxon answered with what sounded like the intro to a management book, saying he picked up things from lots of different mentors. He said “the way someone went about doing something in that time, I learnt a lot from them in that period of time”. I hoped for Mrs Luxon that he’d at least been hanging around with someone that knew how to use a coffee machine, a stapler, or something useful.
He couldn’t name any leaders that had inspired him, but repeatedly talked about real world leadership experience. He said “to be honest, that’s what New Zealand needs right now, that real world leadership experience”. I wasn’t sure if he was referring to that time he went to London and took some selfies while slagging off New Zealand, or the time he spent living in North America selling deodorant for a living.
Bizarrely JMM then asked the leaders what they would do if China invaded Taiwan. Not only was this a weird, and deeply inappropriate question, given we were talking about our largest trading partner, but I couldn’t recall any surveys that suggested this was an important issue to voters.
To the credit of both men they made it clear that this was an area for bipartisanship, and not one they would be using to score political points. It was good to see that maturity from both leaders, as contrasted with whoever decided to ask that question.
One of the early lines of the night was from Chippy. He was saying that in terms of leadership experience Winston Peters and David Seymour would run rings around Luxon. Finishing with “stable government does not come from Winston Peters.” From the look on his face you could tell Luxon obviously agreed.
Luxon then said that Chippy’s coalition would be with the Greens, Te Pāti Māori, and the support of the gangs!
Sorry, what? Labour is going into a coalition with the gangs? I know Luxon has said some absurd things on Law and Order, but this was taking the piss. Chippy told him he was being ridiculous.
JMM intervened asking them what the quality in themselves they most deplored was. Not the usual “what is a weakness you have”, but what quality of yours do you deplore?
Luxon said his was that he was “pretty hard charging and pretty determined”, an odd thing to deplore. Chippy said he needed to delegate more. An area to improve perhaps, but to deplore? I’m really not sure what they were supposed to say “when the moon is full I change form and go in search of prey?”
They moved to crime and of course mention of the tragic, awful, homicide in Albany.
It’s completely understandable that people are concerned by the occurrence of these events, I’m horrified to see them in the city where I live, where my kids use public transport. But the reality is that when out of power National have a record of talking a big game on Law and Order, but in power they cut, or freeze, police funding. This resulted in the closure of numerous police stations under the Key government.
We all wish there was a silver bullet to stop these violent crimes, but it’s simply wishful thinking imagining that a change in government is going to do so. It would have been great to have heard a more intelligent discussion on why we’re seeing young people engaged in these crimes.
Is it a knock on effect from Covid for example? For many, where a parent could carry on working from home, Covid was an inconvenience with sourdough and teddy bears. For others, where money was tight, where there might have been issues of addiction or violence in the home, being stuck in those environments, and the absence of other support for young people from teachers etc, must have had an impact.
Can’t we do something a bit more useful than talking about boot camps and building more prison beds, as National’s partner ACT want? We know those policies don’t work and perpetuate the very behaviours we want to stop. Which is why, as Chippy explained, the government is focussed on circuit breaker programmes to turn those young people around and break the cycle of offending.
Luxon just stood there spouting populist nonsense like banning gang patches and sending 15 year olds to boot camps.
Do you remember how young 15 is? That’s the fourth form, they really are just kids. Not only do these boot camps fail, we also know who will be going to them. It’s not the kids of middle class people with good homes that go off the rails, it’s the poor ones, in bad situations, without good support. Inequality in action.
There was a yes/no question on decriminalising Cannabis, both candidates answering “no” to supporting such a move. It wasn’t surprising given the hysteria that has built around crime, but I thought it was a bit disappointing to just rule it out, out of hand.
In the 2020 referendum 48.4% of people, almost half the population, or to put it another way 1,406,973 voters indicated support for full legalisation. This question was only for the lesser step of decriminalisation, which would be supported by a greater percentage still.
This is an issue important to many. Whether it is access to affordable medicinal cannabis, or concern over police wasting their time harassing people that choose to use a substance less dangerous than alcohol. You’d think one of them might at least sit on the fence on an issue supported by half the population.
There was discussion on dental care, Luxon said that we’d all love to do it but there were higher priorities.
This gave Chippy the opportunity to say Luxon was indicating that tax cuts, for people like the two of them, who certainly don’t need them, were a higher priority to National than access to dental care for those on low incomes. Actually it’s not just those on low incomes, with the cost of living dental care is unaffordable to many.
Next there was a question as to whether Māori and Pasifika people should be prioritised for medical treatment given that, for example, Māori die seven years earlier than pakeha. A really important question that went to the heart of whether we could have a mature conversation about important issues, or not.
Luxon of course ruled it out with a sack full of platitudes of needing to improve outcomes for all New Zealanders. Chippy thankfully spoke to the reality of the situation, saying the following:
“At the moment Māori and Pasifika New Zealanders wait longer for health care than other New Zealanders. The fact that the health system is committed to doing something about that is a good thing.”
Hallelujah! You sing it brother!
Sorry, got a bit excited. I like it when leaders forget about what is the politically appropriate answer and say it honestly how it is. Truth is important, and had I been an undecided voter Chippy would’ve just won me over.
Not on this specific issue, but because he has the courage to say the things that are harder to say, but right to say. There is a word for that. It’s courage, and it’s what I want to see from a leader.
Luxon on the other hand talked himself round in circles saying we have to address issues where people were not being prioritised correctly, seemingly unaware that he was describing the very actions that the health system is taking to address that.
It was the first time we could clearly see the difference between the two leaders. Having a debate about co-governance, outside of the bubbles that people exist in, was a good thing. It might not have changed many minds, but it did expose them to a contest of ideas, which is what we were here for.
Both candidates had relaxed into things at this stage and Luxon had stopped using buzzwords for the moment, sorry bingo players.
Hmm I spoke to soon. Luxon then started talking about what he wanted to “turbo charge and put volume into”. Sorry, what? Maybe he got a message in his ear to stop saying meaningful things?
Chippy was really hammering Luxon on the fact that he seemed open to everything they were doing, other than the use of the word “co-governance”. Luxon looked uncomfortable and wouldn’t look at, or listen to Hipkins. He looked like he was trying to keep his anger in check at being challenged. CEO types don’t tend to like it when people challenge them by talking common sense that is contradictory to what they have said.
Luxon said his actions on co-governance over the last year had been to improve relationships with Māori. It was just laughable, Luxon might not be the next Don Brash but his actions have caused anything other than better relationships.
There was discussion on housing. Luxon explained how he was going to unwind the changes Labour had made to the brightline test and tax incentives. That doing so would make rents cheaper. Chippy pounced. In an echo of JMM and Luxon sneering earlier that his GST cut on fruit and veg wouldn’t be passed on to consumers he asked how Luxon could guarantee that these measures, putting more dollars into the pockets of property owners, would be passed on to renters.
It seemed highly dubious to me, like not in a million years are landlords going to start cutting rents as a result. Unlike earlier, when Hipkins was challenged over GST cuts being passed on, JMM had no interest in challenging Luxon’s far more preposterous claims on rents. If you want your smoking gun showing bias, there it is right there.
To me this was a key moment. The shifting of the market back in favour of property investors, and away from renters, is a crucial aspect of a change in government and JMM went missing, glancing at her notes. Jack Tame would not have.
Climate change came up, you know that whole existential crisis thing. Luxon indicated that he was fully committed to paying lip service to international agreements, while also opposing every measure the government has taken to reduce emissions. Essentially - yes it’s real, but it would impact profits to do anything real about it.
To be fair he did talk about their initiative to have more charging points for electric vehicles. Imagine telling your grandkids that was the option you went for to address the climate crisis. Those voting for National won’t have to imagine, they’re living it.
Asked if climate change was this generation’s nuclear free moment Luxon said he didn’t react to “bumper stickers and headlines”. Chippy piped up that he created them instead.
It certainly was ironic given the meaningless management speak that Luxon often produces. Having said that the buzzword BS was at a low level last night, those using it as a drinking game will have remained perhaps more sober than the situation warranted.
So what did you make of it? Did you learn anything about either of the candidates? Did it answer any questions you might have had, or did it possibly raise new ones? Do you think it would’ve provided any clarity to those who were undecided?
I thought at least the debate wasn’t as heavy on gotchas, and demanding yes/no answers, as it would’ve been on Newshub. But that didn’t mean it was a more informative debate.
JMM spoke far too much. It felt like she was providing so much of the scaffolding and that the candidates just had to fill in the gaps with the rehearsed catch phrases we could have already guessed. For me it would’ve been better to leave it more open ended and leave more opportunity for a free wheeling contest of ideas.
In terms of the candidates I thought Chippy came across as quite relaxed and he was honest and realistic about where we’re at. Things like inequality, the cost of housing, and pay for essential workers are being addressed. More slowly than some on the left might like, but importantly faster than those on the right would prefer.
Luxon had obviously been heavily rehearsed, he was very focussed and controlled. He did better than I thought although I was surprised at how much he spoke over his opponent, which was reminiscent of Key.
What was also reminiscent of Key that hadn’t really come through before, and some of you really might not like this, is that there was a certain blokish charm. When he relaxed and made a joke or two at his own expense he seemed a bit more human than he often has. Ye gods - is this the mythical getting to know him?
I doubt very many people will have changed their minds as to how they would vote, and neither candidate did anything much wrong that would damage them. It all felt a bit safe, a bit like a tick in the box to say we’ve done the thing, without actually having a passionate debate about the direction of the country.
What did you think?
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