There was a moment of shock and awe, of something falling apart, chaos theory in practice, at the start of the first Leaders’ Debate at TVNZ on Tuesday night.
It was actually just before the debate began and even before the audience of about 60 were herded into elevators and led into a small studio tricked out in mauve - mauve lighting, mauve lightning bolts on a black backdrop, mauve background music.
It took place in the TVNZ foyer. A coat hanger fell over with a loud crash. Coat hangers spilled out on to the floor. Goodness it was exciting. Nothing in the actual debate approached its impact and drama.
“Beans and carrots,” said National’s Christopher Luxon, scorning the Government’s decision to remove GST from fruit and vegetables. “Bananas!”
Even before the coat hanger incident, there was the sight of a politician with huge energy and something resembling charisma - former minister Simon Power, who came along to the debate as a member of the audience. I bowled over and had a chat. He said, “I love all those stories you write about infrastructure!” He had mistaken me for Simon Wilson.
“Yes,” said Labour’s Chris Hipkins, asked whether he would ever introduce Capital Gains Tax, “that’s a no.” He has a thin, reedy voice.
Even before I met confused Herald reader Simon Power, there was the thrill of seeing someone with a powerful political message - someone paraded outside TVNZ in a green Sesame Street costume, and carried a placard that read DEBT MONSTER.
The debate droned on. Host Jessica Mutch McKay asked what they would do if China invaded Taiwan. Hipkins said he couldn’t comment on hypotheticals and Luxon said because it was a hypothetical, he couldn’t comment.
I sat in the studio audience and dozed. “Looking good, Uncle Steve!”, texted my niece Joanna.
Hipkins said his favourite beach was Raumati South. Luxon said his favourite beach was on Waiheke Island.
When the debate finished, and I ran for my life, I saw former Labour leader David Cunliffe, who was invited to appear on an expert panel. He looked just as bedraggled as when he lost the 2014 election, still looked like he was carrying a Log of Doom. This is what politics does to people of only mild competence and bland demeanour: fixes them in a kind of aspic. It was like seeing Hipkins and Luxon as they will appear in the future, forever bathed in a mauve light.