Much of this was due to the terrible moderation by the circus ringleader, Mike Hosking. Unable to control his right wing bias, Hosking did everything but ensure everyone was given an equal opportunity to have their say. Interjecting whenever he disagreed with a particular policy position, allowing candidates to continuously talk over other debaters, letting his chosen few to exceed their time limits and not allowing every candidate a right of reply when attacked by other debaters all meant this contest of ideas turned into a farce that was largely unwatchable.
Hosking, who did well a week or so ago to ensure a clean initial leaders debate, failed to control the eight candidates who in many regards acted like a bunch of school yard bullies. Instead of keeping a tight hold of the reins, the deluded radio talk back host appeared on many occasions to be one of the bickering debaters.
This dynamic was particularly disconcerting when he attacked Brendan Horan for remaining in parliament after he was forced to leave NZ First. Putting Peter's on the spot, the old dog of politics did well to maintain his composure while Horan tried to defend his decision.
With the help of the host, Brendan Horan was a complete disaster. Unconvincing as to why he should still be getting his taxpayer funded salary while the party that got him into parliament had disowned him, the newcomer's nervous disposition meant he was entirely unconvincing when talking about his policy positions, whatever they were. Trying to say what he thought the public wanted to hear, I almost felt sorry for the intellectual lightweight. The NZ Independent Coalition will undoubtedly be a rather insignificant footnote in New Zealand's political history.
Hone Harawera on the other hand managed to distance himself somewhat from his change of position on marijuana law reform. Despite Hosking often channeling attack blogger Cameron Slater, the leader of the Mana party also did well to defend the use of the coat tailing rule. Unfortunately he tried to put words in Hosking's mouth by claiming he'd said, on current polling, the Internet Mana party would gain three to four MPs in parliament. This obviously annoyed Hosking, who seemed to take particular pleasure in encouraging other debaters to dismiss as unaffordable Hone's policy to reduce child poverty rates.
By far the worst offender in terms of speaking over other candidates was Winston Peters, who often ensured the debate became nothing more than a mess. Otherwise the seasoned professional did pretty well, especially in terms of his sharp sense of humour and justification for NZ First's policy positions. His exchange with Colin Craig whereby he claimed The Conservative's had stolen all their policy ideas from NZ First was perhaps the highlight of the debate, which isn't saying much.
Next to him was Green party co-leader Russel Norman, who was a bit less assertive than usual. This was particularly troublesome being that he was the main target of Hosking's unfair moderation techniques. Not allowed to respond on at least three occasions and unconvincing as to why their deep sea oil drilling policy shouldn't be a bottom line, Norman still managed to get many of the Greens' policy positions across. Despite the hosts attempts to shut him down, in summarizing Russel Norman was by far the strongest candidate, and therefore in my opinion won this debate.
Maori party leader Te Ururoa Flavell again attempted to claim the Greens' home insulation policy as his own. He also tried to dismiss the growing epidemic of child poverty by simply saying there was lots more work to be done. Unable to acknowledge that poverty and inequality have steady increased under National, Flavell claimed Maori had "gained huge ground" because of his allegiance to the current dysfunctional right wing government. It's a pity every statistic out there shows that Flavell is entirely wrong!
Not to be outdone, the ever delusional Peter Dunne cut a rather deflated and disheveled profile in the debate. Amusingly his claim that United Future had "never set out to be spectacular" drew a "mediocrity" heckle from someone in the studio. With the cheap theatrics of a smoke machine behind him, the tobacco lobbyist played it safe in terms of his policy positioning. Dull and boring Dunne was an inspiration to all those who avoid politics.
By far the worst debater there however was Jamie Whyte. His lackluster presentation of neoliberal ideas and awkward presence is likely to end the Act parties hopes for reelection. Not only was Jamie Whyte an utter disgrace, somebody who supports the Act party tried to hack the TVNZ polling system to make it look like he was the winner. Following in the dishonest footsteps of people like John Banks and Don Brash, Whyte was a spectacular flop in terms of selling the Act parties three strikes for burglary policy. The idiot didn't even know what the current law is, while trying to convince people he should have a mandate to change it. This appearance continues Whyte's previous PR disasters, whereby he doesn't seem to know who or what his party actually stands for.
While ignoring the evidence on why child abuse is increasing, Colin Craig managed to ague for and against binding referendums. The leader of The Conservative party claimed the so-called anti-smacking law wasn't working and the previously badly worded referendum should have been upheld. He then disqualified any referendum concerning the buy back of state assets, saying it would have to be affordable. Clearly any right wing government is going to claim it's unaffordable, which gives them an easy out. So much for binding referendum being a bottom line for The Conservative party. What he obviously meant was that referendum should only be binding on left wing governments.
More than anything this debate showed us that many of the candidates don't know their own parties positions, have based their policy on non-existent or flawed data, would prefer to bicker instead of work constructively together on solutions and don't appear to even want to promote or present themselves to the public properly. Let's hope the next encounter improves somewhat on this sad excuse for a debate.