Colin Hogg: Fireworks heat up dreary debates

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Just as it's all feeling like listening to paint dry, Collins' exit hands interviewers something to get their teeth into.
Corin Dann had little luck attempting to spice up a finance debate between National's Bill English and Labour's David Parker.
Corin Dann had little luck attempting to spice up a finance debate between National's Bill English and Labour's David Parker.

'We'll be with you backly in a short moment," the political editor babbled to a country looking for answers as our election campaign turns madder by the moment and the questions pile up.

It was poor Corin Dann on Sunday's Q+A (TV One, 9am) who briefly lost his words on national television. He'd just endured 20 minutes trying to make something frisky out of a debate on finance between National's Bill English and Labour's David Parker.

It was like listening to paint dry and, perhaps rattled by his failure, Dann briefly lost the plot going into the ad break.

Though it's hard to imagine how anyone could lose the plot, given that New Zealand politics seems nothing but plot and counter-plot at the moment - with television lapping it up like calves at a bottomless trough. And meantime such minor matters as policy and trust are trampled in the confusion.

Though, on the shallow and satisfying side of things, there's no getting away from the fact that suddenly politics has an entertainment factor it previously painfully lacked. Elections used to be boring. Perhaps as a result, there was a huge audience for last Thursday's primetime debate on TV One between Prime Minister John Key and would-be PM David Cunliffe, though it was hardly a fireworks display.

The fireworks came, of course, over the weekend with the resignation of Justice Minister Judith Collins only an hour or two after TV3 aired its Saturday morning political show The Nation, rendering most of its fevered speculations redundant.

Though the show did also feature an engaging interview with Conservative Party leader Colin Craig, looking like a teenager and often sounding like one with his sudden enthusiasms.

The show's featured bout was between the National and Labour housing heavyweights, Nick Smith and Phil Twyford. No major blows were landed, though Twyford did keep touching Smith on the arm and shoulder, which seemed, well, strange.

But Twyford was terribly excited to be there. So excited, in fact, he made the usually overheated Smith appear calm by comparison.

Unsurprisingly, on Q+A the next morning everything was slightly overheated and the Collins resignation the hot topic. With Collins not returning calls and the PM and the big bad blogger Cameron Slater both refusing invitations to appear on the show, it was English who had to face the fire, though he deflected much of Dann's questioning.

Finally, they got to the planned debate on money matters between English and Parker, the latter obviously recently skilled up for the task, furiously eyeballing the camera and on the attack like never before. But Parker's bark is more jack russell than rottweiler and English shrugged much of it off, smiling like he knew the truth.

In search of the truth, and taking up the rest of Sunday's Q+A, there was a super-sized panel of experts to examine the entrails of all the ongoing awfulness.

And it turned suddenly interesting when one of them - Matthew Hooton, the one "from the right" - seemed so involved in the current scandals he was grilled by presenter Susan Wood and left looking barely capable of any credible comment.

Though aren't we tiring, anyway, of the fashion for commentators from the right and left when what we deserve are commentators from the middle?

They're called journalists.

- NZ Herald

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