James Elliott was at the minor party leaders’ debate, where he made some astute observations about both the powerbrokers and the structural integrity of water crackers 

Last night I found myself amongst a select group of attendees at Newshub’s Powerbrokers’ Debate of minority party leaders. Or as host Simon Shepherd described it in a blooper that you won’t see when it’s televised tomorrow, “TV3’s Powerbreakers’ Debate”.

In fact either description would be fine with the panel of four party leaders having a solid collective track record of both power broking and power breaking.

Perching on bar stools with varying degrees of comfort based on leg length were Greens co-leader Marama Davidson, Act leader David Seymour, and New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters. The fourth member of the panel was former Metro man of the year, former lawyer, former talkback host, former wheel clamp remover, former MP for Hauraki, former MP for Tāmaki Makaurau, former Labour cabinet minister, former front bum referencer, former candidate for the Waitemata DHB, former candidate for the Auckland mayoralty, former sieg heil utterer and current Māori Party co-leader John Tamihere.

Earlier in the day there had been the possibility of a fifth panellist, one who’s racking up his own list of “former” titles, Jami-Lee Ross. The former National MP for Botany and soon-to-be former independent MP for Botany was involved in an urgent court application in his capacity as the soon-to-be former co-leader of Advance New Zealand, trying to get a fifth bar stool at the debate. He failed, and since he’s no longer contesting the Botany seat his only chance of staying in Parliament is as number two on the Advance New Zealand party list, number three if you include the leading statistical candidate Marj Inoferror.

Winston repeated his claim that the NZ First party was completely exonerated by the SFO’s findings but remained furious that the exoneration had come before the election.

To borrow Jacinda Ardern’s debate catchphrase “If I may”, if I may bring you back to John Tamihere. If he’s the Māori Party co-leader, and he is, then “Why is he seventh on the party list?” was a question that was begging to be asked. So I was pleased when host Simon asked John “If you’re the Māori Party co-leader then why are you seventh on the party list?” John’s answer was … actually to be honest I don’t know what his answer was because I was distracted by Newsroom’s Jono Milne trying to coil a long piece of prosciutto onto a small slice of rye bread. To borrow Judith Collins’ debate catchphrase “I’ll tell you what”, I’ll tell you what, on each of the audience’s tables were two platters of magnificent canapés but unfortunately no knives. I wondered whether this was a health and safety issue and if so was it David Seymour’s health and safety they were worried about? Whatever the reason, the only cutting that was going on was the cutting comments directed at David Seymour by Marama Davidson. And the cutting comments directed at David Seymour by John Tamihere. And the cutting comments directed at David Seymour by Winston Peters. Even host Simon joined in with a cutting question to David Seymour to the effect of “you want to manage Covid quarantining with Air B’n’B don’t you?”.

As it turned out, David Seymour wants us to manage Covid by being more like Taiwan, a controversial rejection of the One China policy that seemed to be missed by most people in the room. To be fair I couldn’t see everyone’s reaction because I was brushing off cracker shards as RNZ’s Jo Moir tried, unsuccessfully, to hack off a slice of Brie with an Arnotts’ water cracker. I could see the apparent logic in trying to use a thin cracker to try and slice a soft cheese but a water cracker simply doesn’t have the structural integrity to cope with the exertion of any lateral pressure, unlike the Huntley & Palmers wholegrain cracker which, as I demonstrated, was able to deal with not only the Brie but also a slightly firmer blue.

Also under pressure was Winston Peters, fielding a question about the SFO’s investigation into donations made to the NZ First Foundation and the resulting criminal charges laid against two people. Winston repeated his claim that the NZ First party was completely exonerated by the SFO’s findings but remained furious that the exoneration had come before the election. I figure that if you’re upset at the timing of being completely exonerated then maybe it’s not quite the complete exoneration you’ve claimed it to be.

Back at our table Newshub’s Connor Whitten was claiming that the deep fried mystery balls contained broccoli. His face was a picture of journalistic impartiality and I had no idea whether he was pleased or displeased with this discovery. I thought I’d play it safe and go back for some more grapes but thought better of it when Marama Davidson reminded us of the importance of providing equal opportunity for all.

According to the after-match pundits, with the exception of Act, that was the common ground of the debate – equality of opportunity for all but a difference of opinion as to how best to deliver it. And apparently it’s the same for platters of canapés.

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