Why Luxon won last night's debate

Posted September 20, 2023

Christopher Luxon was the clear winner of last night’s debate for two distinct reasons.

Firstly, the parts of the debate that have been covered since have suggested a win to Luxon. Let me explain. Both leaders would have gone into the debate with some clear things they wanted to focus on. For National throughout the campaign that has been about “Rebuilding the economy, restoring Law and Order and improving Schools and Healthcare.” It’s plain to see on their website and what their spokespeople talk about. Luxon got these all out in his introductory remarks.

When it comes to answering questions for a moderator, it’s usually best to answer that question before trying to link back to one of these points. This was difficult last night because they got little time. However, Luxon did manage this on a few occasions, including when answering questions from the public.

He also got in some good one-liners out that are often used in subsequent media coverage. For example, when Hipkins criticised him for the Foreign Buyers Tax, he said, “It’s better than a couple of cents off your beans and carrots". This was used extensively by media after the debate.

The other thing he achieved was to look Prime Ministerial. This was important and something many commentators doubted he could do before the debate. He was assertive, and managed to get his points across clearly and briefly without looking as scripted as he sometimes can.

One mistake

One mistake to me was something he said that was also used extensively in subsequent media coverage. This was when he said, "My wife's got the most famous EV in the country." While that may be funny, Climate Change is not something he would want media to focus on after the debate because that’s not one of the three key points the party wants to focus on. While a good joke can work well, it would be far better to come up with one related to one of the key points.

What about Hipkins?

Chris Hipkins took about half the debate to show any passion. He let Luxon get away with some harsh one-liners without fighting back. The worst probably being  how unstable a coalition would be with the Greens, Maori Party and the GANGS.

Once he got into his stride, he was far more effective and did challenge Luxon more. I’m sure he will be a lot more aggressive in the next debate.

It’s hard to know whether he got the party campaign message out well because it’s hard to pin down what that three-point message is. It’s not even clear on the party website. It’s ironic that the topic he seemed most passionate about was Co-Governance and the Maori Health Authority and I’m sure that wouldn’t be part of the campaign message. But that was what he focused on the most and what got lots of coverage after debate.

Final word

This was a clear win for Luxon, but both have work to do in preparation for their next battle. I’m sure Hipkins will come out swinging, so Luxon will need to be ready.

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