The winners and losers of the Youth Wings debate

The Spinoff’s Youth Wings series culminated last night in a half-hour debate episode. Today we hand out the awards.

Over the past week, our Youth Wings series has showcased the keen young folk who dedicate their prime years to phone banking and hoarding hammering.

Young Act’s Felix Poole, Young Labour’s Adam Brand, Young National’s Aryana Nafissi, Young New Zealand First’s Jay McLaren-Harris, and the Young Greens’ Danielle Marks and Matariki Roche have all generously shared moments of their lives with us.

Earlier this month they gathered in Auckland’s Town Hall concert chamber for a debate hosted by the Spinoff’s Toby Manhire and attended by 120 politics nerds. There were cheers and boos from the crowd, and young people yelling over each other just like old politicians do.

And now, the awards:

Best use of time: Jay McLaren-Harris (NZ First)

Jay was the only person to hit the 30-second mark during his opening statement. When the bell rang he yelled “WEBACKEDOURFUTURE” over Toby Manhire’s obstructive gargling, determined to include the bell’s echo as part of his allotted time.

Most personally revealing statement: Felix Poole (Act)

“I’m afraid of aeroplanes.”

Best distraction: Danielle Marks and Matariki Roche (Green)

A beautiful coalition moment didn’t make it to the final cut. When Adam’s mic slipped there was a pause in filming while it was fixed, and the Green duo stepped in to keep momentum going by leading the concert chamber in a rousing chorus of Tūtira Mai Ngā Iwi. It went off.

Biggest laugh: Jay McLaren-Harris (NZ First)

“Shane Jones is one of the hardest working members of parliament,” he said, and the crowd laughed. “I know there are some former parliamentary colleagues here and I hope they will agree with me,” he continued. “No,” said a member of the crowd. And they laughed again.

Most terrifying statement: Adam Brand (Labour)

“For the three years after [the election], we’re going to be the Labour party’s worst nightmare.” He meant well, probably.

Best question-dodge: Jay McLaren-Harris (NZ First)

Jay declined to answer how he’ll be voting on the cannabis referendum because he’s “not educated on this topic as much as other people are, and we need to take educated approaches to these things”. It might have flown under the radar if he hadn’t given the exact same response to a question about the assisted dying bill. In a debate the next week, he declared he will vote “yes” in the cannabis referendum.

Most personal attack: Felix Poole (Act)

Clearly over Jay not answering the referendum questions, Felix summed up how much of the audience seemed to be feeling: “It’s been in the public arena for years, and if you haven’t developed an opinion on that I think it’s ridiculous you claim to be some sort of representative.”

Best moment of solidarity: Matariki Roche (Green)

Following on from Jay’s admission that he’s not well-educated around two major election issues, Matariki tautoko’d his bravery. “I think that’s a really brave thing, to be able to say that you’re not educated enough on something, especially in a youth politics space,” she said. Soon after she would take a cue from him and admit to not knowing much about the Kermadec ocean sanctuary bill.

Best look: Adam Brand (Labour)

That’s the confident smirk of a man who can see the moderator’s notes.

Most party-line answer: Felix Poole (Act)

A surprising winner in a very close competition. Adam and Jay may have slung the most slogans, but Felix’s answer to how we can solve the climate crisis – the most important issue of his generation – was incredibly Gen X: “Private enterprise and innovation can do that.” No elaboration. During most of the debate, Felix really set himself apart from the Act Party by advocating for legal use of methamphetamines and having heaps of charisma. Not here.

Most ruthless argument: Danielle Marks (Green)

When asked if the Greens could work with National to further their cause, it was a clear “no” from Danielle: “You know National doesn’t care about, like marginalised communities? You know that? We want to help people out of poverty, and National doesn’t.”

Best future member of the opposition: Aryana Nafissi (National)

She’s got passion, great pointing fingers, and years of experience watching Parliament TV. She knows how to cut through someone else’s speech. See: “How long does it take Shane [Jones] to get out of bed? Two years?” “Nangs! Nangs!” and frequent, wide-mouthed chortling.

Best self-own: a tie between Adam Brand and Felix Poole (Labour, Act)

Felix described youth wings as toxic because “they end up being a place where politics interact with youth”, which is a burn on both politicians and young people. He is both of those things.

Adam burned his own party by naming his two reasons for not becoming a Labour MP: “The first one is I don’t have Twitter, and the second one is that I’m not a lawyer.”

Most healing moment: Aryana Nafissi and Felix Poole (National, Act)

During the series, we saw Aryana and Felix face off at Auckland University’s O-week. Felix said Nats hate gays, and Aryana said this was defamation. It was tense. By the end of the debate their feud is ended. It’s not in the final cut, but they shared a smile, a friendly glance, and declared that Act and National work well together. “We’d make a really strong government,” said Aryana. “At least they’re better than the other guys,” said Felix.

‘Can’t have too much of a good thing’ award: Toby Manhire (Spinoff)

Viewers at home will weep when they realise they’ve missed a gold-star joke. When welcoming the live audience weeks ago, Toby Manhire threw out a real knee-slapper: “It’s great to see you all here for what looks to me very much like the launch of the Spinoff political party.”

It went down so well that he made the joke three more times over the course of the evening. Don’t fix what ain’t broke. For unknown reasons, zero iterations of this joke made it to the final cut. Vote for the Spinoff members.

Thanks to NZ on Air for making Youth Wings possible. The Spinoff editor would like it noted that the final entry is false and defamatory.



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