The main event
John Key has refused to debate with the "minor" leaders on TV3, so Goff has followed suit. It's a shitty stitch-up that only benefits Key - and Duncan Garner nails them for it. Smart tactic for Key, poor one for Goff but you can see why he took it - it's the only chance Phil and his people believe they can avoid the 2002-style Bill English collapse that looks to be ahead for Labour. I'm not so sure it will work for Phil, but I'm very sure it will work for Key - reason alone for caution. Phil blinked and Key will be smiling. Key has the upper hand in this one-on-one format because amid the grey dullness the points of difference between them favour Key.
It is a bit of a circus with ALL the leaders there, seven or eight of them, but we expect a few of these TV bun fights in the campaign. Expect - try command. Little men like Jim Anderton have whinged off to the High Court in the past to get themselves some airtime by judicial writ (rather than on merit or consistent with the format) and so it is something of an institution. And maybe we are now paying the price of Anderton's ego - the big guns just can't be faffed fooling around with clowns. The High Court can command a network to add Anderton at his demand, but they can't command John Key or Phil Goff to have to appear - although if Anderton was not retiring he would probably have argued it! And he did it to help Clark rather than himself and did so effectively by acting like a team with her in debate esp. with the right wing opponents where he would interrupt and pass comments and engage in the more aggressive tactics that a PM could not.
Phil needs many, many things to happen in order to win, but that sort of an Anderton wing man in the debate (the actual TV debates and the wider political debate) is a bloody good start. At the moment he hasn't any. As long as Tariana Turia is co-leader of the Maori Party her and Pita will never help Phil. As long as Peter Dunne represents a wealthy belt of suburbia he will never help Phil. As long as he keeps ruling out working with Hone as a leader post-election then obviously the last person to help Phil will be Hone. And that leaves the Greens who can barely help themselves let alone attempt to bail out Phil. Most new Green votes will be converted from Labour meaning they are probably the biggest competition on the left. Can't see Met or Russel rushing in to save Phil if it gets dicey.
How uninspiring will dull Phil look next to Metiria Turei? To Hone Harawira? To Pita Sharples? To Don Brash? - he's got wild ideas. To Peter Dunne? - the only man to have a facebook page for his haircut. And then there's Winston Peters - if he get's on too then he also becomes an unwanted ally - a rod for Phil's back for all the previous term's shennanigans of which no-one would want to be reminded.
So Phil and his crew play for safety and choose to go up against what they hope to be a similar foe in a situation where he can be matched. Unfortunately Key is younger, brighter, more affable and more ambitious version of Phil and everyone can see, hear, smell and taste it. This is the risk Labour run by signing up to a one-on-one: it's a double or nothing punt against a master player.
The outcome will be either a great Goff performance: in which case the Nats and Key will just shrug it off and it won't have any affect or change the discourse of a Nat win/Labour defeat; or the outcome will be a poor or middling performance by Goff which will just reinforce the Phil-can't-win meme and spiral the Labour Party to a thrashing the type that National got in 2002. There may have been more to gain by going and making Key look like the c:(nt in this instance.