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RICHARD PREBBLE: Who won the Leaders’ debate?

There was a knockout winner of the Leaders’ debate. Check for yourself. Recall how they looked. If you cannot remember or missed it, the debate is on TVNZ’s website.


Turn off the sound and ask; “which one looks like a Prime Minister?”


Political scientists have done this experiment repeatedly. Asked people who do not know the candidates, who looks like the office holder? People overwhelmingly pick the photo of the eventual winner.


Commentators said Christopher Luxon needed to look Prime Ministerial. He did. What commentators forgot was it was also important for Chris Hipkins to look Prime Ministerial. At times he looked like a boy in a man’s job.


Psychologists say we are not who we think we are. We are the riders on an elephant. It is our subconscious that really makes our decisions. We the riders just rationalize our subconscious decisions.


Our subconscious minds were asking “who looks the most Prime Ministerial?”


Commentators say it was a draw or a slight win for Luxon.


Everyone agrees it was boring. One young member of my household watched for five minutes before giving up.


A boring debate with viewers switching off is a disaster for Hipkins. He needed to put some fire under Labour supporters. He put them to sleep.


It was Hipkins’ last chance. Floating voters only watch the first debate. The remaining debates are watched by those who follow politics and will not change their vote.


A dull debate was what Luxon wanted. Center right voters are far more likely to vote. Labour voters need to be motivated to vote. Young Green voters are even less likely to vote. Research shows ACT voters are the most likely to vote.


Labour voters heard nothing that would motivate them to vote. A boring election campaign means there will be a low election turnout. Labour’s vote is likely to be even lower than their disastrous poll numbers.


Chris could not distinguish himself from Christopher. They agreed on virtually everything.


Christopher Luxon is following a proven successful National strategy, campaigning on managerialism. The two Chrises repeatedly agreed on the goals, with Luxon saying he could deliver them better. Most Labour supporters think it is likely Christopher Luxon is a better manager. If Labour supporters think Luxon will not change anything but manage Labour’s policies better, why bother voting?


The real winners of the Leaders debate were not on the stage. In the latest Roy Morgan Poll just 32% think we are headed in the right direction and a majority, 56%, say we are headed in the wrong direction.


When Christopher Luxon says he agrees with Hipkins about the goals and he says he will get us there faster, it cannot make most of us feel happy.


Two parties are promising a strategic shift in direction, the Greens and ACT.


Winston Peters is a spend, borrow and hope popularist. Until around three weeks ago, Winston Peters and Chris Hipkins had never publicly disagreed about anything.

Whatever New Zealand First may be, it is not a change in direction.


The Greens do represent a radical new direction that does appeal to Labour’s left.


The Greens are running a socialist program of redistribution. Their traditional focus on environmental issues is very much overshadowed.


Chris Hipkins has left it far too late to explain that wealth taxes are a disaster and have never worked. He has never pointed out our tax system is already very progressive. 21.2% of taxpayers pay 68.5% income tax. Around 50% of the population, after transfers, effectively pay no tax.


Nothing in the Leaders’ debate will stop the rise of the Greens.


As an aside, it’s the promise of another week’s annual leave that may cause potential Green voters to pause. There are websites with advice on how to use the present annual leave combined with the 12 public holidays to create 55 days holiday a year. Another 7 days and that is three months a year. Even the looney left knows spending a quarter of the year on holiday is not sustainable.


ACT will be the big winner from the leaders’ debate. The leader who is proposing real change is David Seymour. On those quick-fire questions where the Chrises agreed, David Seymour disagrees. ACT is the only party saying we must live within our means and has a credible program to do so.


ACT says it has party polling that shows around a quarter of the electorate is considering giving a vote to ACT.


After watching the Leaders’ debate voting ACT must seem even more attractive.



The Honourable Richard Prebble CBE is a former member of the New Zealand Parliament. Initially a member of the Labour Party, he joined the newly formed ACT New Zealand party under Roger Douglas in 1996, becoming its leader from 1996 to 2004.


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