Mike Hosking 's Opinion

Mike Hosking is a breakfast host on Newstalk ZB.

Mike Hosking: Grab a glass and watch big boys battle

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Tonight’s multi-party debate is bound to be noisy but it’s a chance to learn something new about party leaders.

So to tonight's minor party leaders' debate on TV One at 7. They want it called the multi-party leaders' debate; they are sensitive about their status.

I am hoping it's not as tense as last week's first David Cunliffe/John Key showdown.

Man, can those people take themselves seriously.

Not the main blokes: Cunliffe was reasonably laid-back, Key was so laid-back I think he forgot to change gear between the green room and the studio, hence his somewhat lethargic performance.

No, the real trouble is behind the scenes.

Cunliffe has too many people in his ear, he travels with a battalion of hangers-on and they look like they all have to justify their work, hence the air is thick with "issues".

This might be Cunliffe's Achilles heel. By the time everyone has had their say and pointed him in a variety of directions, I get the distinct impression the real David is lost behind the manufactured David.

And whose various versions are rolled out depend on who he is talking to.

Anyway, back to the multi/minor leaders. There is drama there as well. They all need separate green rooms, and given there are eight of them, that's a lot of green rooms. I suspect it's more green rooms than TVNZ has.

Winston wasn't showing for a while because Brendan Horan was fronting. But he got over himself.

Although I take Winston's point.

Brendan is an anomaly of MMP. He got into Parliament on the NZ First list. He got sacked and therefore had two choices: quit or become an independent.

He chose the latter and now is the leader of his own party, but he is really there on false pretences.

But rules are rules and if you're a leader in Parliament you get a spot.

You also get a spot if you're not a leader in Parliament, like Jamie Whyte.

Jamie is another anomaly of MMP.

In fact, Jamie might be a leader after the election - but still not in Parliament.

Colin Craig isn't a leader in Parliament, but that's never stopped him ringing a lawyer and crashing a party.

I suspect he would have rung him again and injuncted TVNZ if he hadn't passed our debate criterion.

The criterion is you had to reach 3 per cent in the One News poll.

He got there last Sunday.

His lawyer would, of course, have argued if he didn't that he had in other polls. In fact, when I interviewed him on ZB the other day after the TV3 poll that had him at 4.6 per cent, he'd already crossed the 5 per cent in his mind and was setting up shop on the cross-benches.

I am still not convinced he'll make it to Parliament, and the better Winston does, the less convinced I am. There is a crossover vote there and Winston seems on a bit of a roll.

What I am looking to do tonight is treat the leaders according to their status.

The Greens, without question, will have the most influence in a government if the left get up, and therefore deserve the most attention.

Much is made of the balance of power, but that's headline stuff.

Yes, you can decide who gets to govern but history shows, by and large, that the number of policies you extract and the number of Cabinet seats you get is pretty much based on the size of your party.

Hence Peter Dunne, Act and the Maori Party have virtually vanished, despite being in government.

Winston also deserves attention, because despite all that madness and eccentricity, you can't say he isn't there year in, year out across the threshold and ready to wreak havoc.

What I'm wanting is for this debate not to be about issues that some players will have no influence on in government, but the things they will.

And I want those with the most potential influence to have the most voice.

And stand by - there will be interruptions and a bit of banter.

For those who criticised me for letting Cunliffe interrupt too much in the leaders' debate - this isn't the BBC, a gentlemen's club or 1962.

Robust exchange brings out the best in people (mostly) and allows the odd surprise to be sprung.

Moderation is done with a light hand and these are big boys in a big boys' game.

They want to run your country, so a church-like atmosphere achieves little. And a bit of noise never hurt anyone.

After all, it's Friday night. So grab a glass, pay attention, and let's see if we can't learn something.

- NZ Herald

Mike Hosking

Mike Hosking is a breakfast host on Newstalk ZB.

Mike has been Newstalk ZB’s breakfast host since taking over from Sir Paul Holmes in 2008. He also hosts TVNZ’s nightly current affairs show, Seven Sharp. Mike's insightfulness and knowledge makes him one of New Zealand’s most successful broadcasters.

Read more by Mike Hosking

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