Shane Jones flanked by Marama Fox and Gareth Morgan at the Spinoff’s 2017 political debate.
Shane Jones flanked by Marama Fox and Gareth Morgan at the Spinoff’s 2017 political debate.

PoliticsSeptember 7, 2017

The very best of The Spinoff Great Debate

Shane Jones flanked by Marama Fox and Gareth Morgan at the Spinoff’s 2017 political debate.
Shane Jones flanked by Marama Fox and Gareth Morgan at the Spinoff’s 2017 political debate.

Last night The Spinoff hosted ‘The Great Debate’ on Facebook Live. We wanted the most entertaining politicians on one stage to cause chaos, and that’s exactly what we got. Duncan Greive recounts the highlights.

It was a trip. When we first started planning our debate, we envisaged something on an earth-floored barn, filmed on a mid-’00s Nokia, eventually making its way online with all of the gravitas of one of those Russian dashboard cam carjacking clips.

Then through a combination of good luck and surprisingly good management we ended up in the flash-as-hell Generator with Facebook (the actual Facebook!) putting on this ridiculously pro production.

And the event justified it, heaps. Shane Jones was incredibly grouchy, Kelvin Davis got flustered, Marama Fox flipped two birds – everyone had moments where they shone and most turned your opinion of them and their party one way or the other. Paddy Gower was in the room and yelling, while Duncan Garner and Gilda Kirkpatrick were sounding off in the comments. Toby, Leonie and Simon all brought heat – asking about prisons and drugs and climate change, in depths that haven’t necessarily been breached in other debates. 55,000 views and climbing, trending #1 on Twitter all night, thousands livestreaming. It was cool.

If you missed it, or want to relive the glory, watch it below or on Facebook – or read on for the night’s best moments in a handy listicle-ish format:

Gareth Morgan admitted that he thinks people are “mostly idiots”

Gareth Morgan (right) and Shane Jones

“Gareth, sometimes when I watch you, I get the feeling that you think that people are mostly idiots. Do you think people are mostly idiots?” Toby gently but firmly articulated what Gareth Morgan’s campaign has had as a screaming subtext the whole way through. “When I see 20% of the electorate move because Labour puts a smiley face on, I do ask the question,” he replied. From anyone else it would be shocking, but we already knew it. He also didn’t resile from ‘lipstick on a pig’, saying “it almost got as much cut-through as ‘cats-to-go’, baby”, which was actually a cool line.

Shane Jones introduced himself via the medium of slam poetry

The debate’s grumpy uncle, occasionally waking up from his evening nap to reprimand the mods for incorrect application of the Harvard Debating Society’s Fifth Edition of its Etiquette Guide for Genteel Debatery, Shane Jones was mostly a let-down. The best moment came early, when he did some of his trademark free-associative beat poetry.

“Whether it’s the millennial soufflée/
Or the tired Bill, and the departing National party/
We will be in the middle/
No qualms about standing up/
To too many immigrants coming into the country/
A patriotic party/

“You come back/
From looooong service on behalf of taxpayers/
In the Pacific islands, chasing pelagic fish/
Climbing Mt Everest in Whangarei in a pair of jandals”


Kelvin Davis seemed to concede Te Tai Tokerau which was weird

He had an affably ropey debate, not appearing that up on Labour policy, but not overly bothered by it. But the biggest moment came when a Facebook commenter asked the group to acknowledge a mistake they had made. “I think a mistake I’ve made is trying to be an electorate MP of a large Māori electorate as well as the deputy leader of the Labour party,” he said, before steadily digging the hole deeper to the soundtrack of increasingly excited howls from his opponents. Paula Bennett was naturally most delighted, and yelled “you’ve gotta be up for it”, to applause. This excited her so much that she repeated it two or three times until the law of diminishing returns had fully flattened out. But Davis’ admission will be seized upon by Hone Harawira as evidence that his “two for the price of one” line has now won over Davis himself.

Marama Fox did Marama Fox things

Marama vs the world

She wore official Marama Fox merchandise, flipped two birds and generally had this room, like every room she enters, on a string. As well as arguing passionately and articulately for te reo and prisoners’ rights, she also basically heckled poor Kelvin Davis into a red-faced husk – it was a command performance to the edge of cruelty. There will definitely have been voters who switched to the Māori Party purely to keep her in parliament, which at this point appears an entirely rational political act.

Shane Jones enjoying Marama Fox’s company less than she is enjoying his by the looks

Paula Bennett dragged Henderson High School and the Headhunters

The deputy prime minister was the most senior and experienced politician in the room, and it showed. Of the six it was Kelvin Davis she wanted to beat up on, and she managed to best him comfortably. She even managed a reasonably plausible apology for accidentally removing human rights from a segment for the population on Sunday.

Then came P. P does seem bad, based on what I’ve read, but it also induces a particular strand of extremism in National politicians (see: “fewer human rights” etc). But the cringiest moment came when she talked about gangs and drugs in West Auckland, saying “bloody get drugs out of Henderson High School” – which seemed awfully specific, and something the staff and students of Henderson High School might not have want broadcast to the nation.

Marama Davidson blazed on te reo

Marama Davidson in the eye of a deputy leader storm

“David, the Crown beat te reo out of my grandmother in schools… so you cannot compare what happened with losing our Reo with putting it back into schools,” she said, after David Seymour fretted over compulsion. She had a number of fine moments, and looked the Green Party co-leader-in-waiting that New Zealand has essentially already assumed her to be. But her fire on te reo and nuanced response to questioning about Metiria’s fate were particularly impressive.

David Seymour wants a Nobel Peace Prize for his literacy in prisons idea

“This policy has united the Howard League, the Sensible Sentencing Trust, the Labour party and the National party – now if the people who hand out the Nobel Peace Prize are watching – that’s not bad, huh?” Actually fair enough. Seymour was on the end of the group, and did at stages seem in danger of falling off it entirely – which is definitely not a metaphor for his current political reality. What he does well is make the most of what little he has; he handled himself more adeptly than most on that stage, and made at least one new friend on the night.

Madeleine Chapman’s memes won the debate

The Spinoff staff writer Madeleine Chapman was out of town and streaming it, which allowed her to live meme the debate and it was pretty great. You should defo be following her.

Keep going!