Brian Edwards Media

Thoughts on the Newshub Debate

Jacinda Ardern  Bill English

I was standing in for Kim Hill on National Radio. On that morning’s guest list was the Leader of the Opposition Helen Clark. Her ‘preferred prime minister’ ratings at the time were dire. Towards the end of the interview I said to her, “You don’t look very happy.”

Not long afterwards I had a call from Helen’s office asking if I could come over for a chat. The possibility of Callingham & Edwards giving Helen some media advice was discussed. To my eternal shame my reply was that I was unsure whether she ‘could be fixed’.

My closest friend at the time was Michael Hirschfeld, then President of the Labour Party. We talked. Michael later brokered a one-off training session with Helen. We looked at tapes of several of her previous TV interviews. In most of them she was overly formal, spoke too loudly and barked.

We explained that the television interview is an intimate, close-up affair and suggested that she speak more quietly and in a more personal tone.

We had a second go.

We’ve trained a helluva lot of people. But Helen was/is the fastest learner by a country mile. She would have won the 1996 election were it not for Winston Peters.

I’m telling this story because I was reminded of those events as I watched last night’s debate between English and Ardern. English was his usual amiable self. He spoke quietly and calmly and showed virtually no sign of being fazed.

Jacinda was more abrasive, more combative, generally louder and occasionally shrill. A kinder interpretation would be to say that she was more passionate.

From a quick read of this morning’s papers the majority view appears to be that English won the debate. Ms Ardern doesn’t want my advice but here it is anyway: Even when you are debating in front of a large and sometimes voluble studio audience, the audience that really matters consists of small groups of people sitting at home in their living rooms distractedly watching the box. Television is an intimate medium. Treat it like a town hall meeting at your peril.

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  1. Perhaps a review of the leaders debates between Helen Clark and John Key back in 2008 would be helpful. My recollections are of fairly calm, composed and assured PM that didn’t bark, compared to a yapping, interjecting, arm waving (but smiling) leader of the opposition. Who won that election.

  2. agree with you , Brian…Bill came over well.

  3. Hi Brian,

    I didn’t think she seemed shrill. That is my opinion.

    I accept you thought she did. I think it would be difficult for anyone to stay calm debating with Bill, given National had just pulled a dirty trick on Labour, i.e. the 11 Billion $ hole, which was clearly an attempt to rattle Jacinda and make her look incompetent on the financials. That didn’t work.

    I also thought Bill looked really bad twice in the debate on the question on lying and also how he was going to spend his $1000.00 tax cut.

  4. I agree with Ann.If anyone didnt pass the grade I thought it was Paddy Gower.He looked more rattled than both of them.
    Bill whom I considered to have a better knowledge of budgets should never have listened to Steven Joyce.It was a cheap shot and below my expectations of a leaders behaviour.Despite this I find Bill English far more palatable than Key. I also give Bill points for not stooping to the “Show me the Money”phrase.I always thought that was premeditated rather than a spur of the moment phrase. Bill should leave National and join Labour to get away from the incompedent cabinet in waiting.
    Jacinda as a relative newcomer to these heightened expectations in this new role grows better with each day.She will make a great Prime Minister

  5. I agree with Ann, about Bill English in the debate ,
    he was particularly inadequate in the first question about whether it was acceptable to lie in politics and we know why now ,
    mischievous accusations re: a large hole in Labour’s budget.
    I think that Jacinda is connecting well with the people of our country
    by being open honest intelligent and just plain nice.
    If this is what the new generation of politicians is going to provide I will be happy.

  6. With respect Brian, (no really … “sincere” respect) … your role in matters political, is shall we say, PR/Presentational … a subsidiary,though nonetheless an important matter to be sure.

    However, personally, I attempt to listen! more than look at times such as these. Rather than be beguiled by poor/good presentation I attempt to consider both the width AND quality of the discourse.

    On these terms though I do agree with you that Bill is winning.

    JA if you listen … suffers from the by now well rehearsed litany of her inexperience/light weight content/incomplete explanations/repetition and often (if you listen and analyse!) … irrelevancy.

    To her full credit however not bad (bloody amazing actually) though, considering her short apprenticeship!

    Her strengths come under the heading of the more “presentational” skills … at which she is very good.

    As a possible PM this “plus” is still … hardly “enough”.

  7. @ larry mitchell where do I start, ” irrelevancy ”
    Jacinda Adern has made the National Government
    talk about chid poverty increasing, to the point that they are now setting targets
    after nine years to do something about it. For me that is very relevant.
    I see more people now deciding that they do not want tax cuts when 290 thousand children are having their futures blighted by poverty.
    ” light weight content ”
    I want election debates to deal with homelessness too,
    which is a bigger problem than I have ever witnessed in my now longish life.
    In summary homelessness and increasing child poverty must be eliminated to make us the more egalitarian country we once were.

  8. Good pitch for the business there, Brian, though she needs you more than the reverse, I’m sure.