How about that leaders' debate last night? The Big Gun of Dipton against the Oracle of Morrinsville. The one that sounds like she's advertising sports footwear against the one that sounds like he's advertising a postal service. Yes, Bill English was there. Yes, Jacinda Ardern was there. Yes, Mike Hosking, the man who understands everything but wants you to know he doesn't care about any of it: he was there.

What happened? I've no idea. Owing to arcane newspaper logistics which I'm told involve printing presses and distribution, I am required to file my copy before the debate begins. But in the spirit of ambition-for-New-Zealand that almost certainly suffused last night's event, I will not let such mundane practicalities stand in my way.

It was a dark and stormy night. Like two prize fighters jockeying for position, Ardern and English locked horns for kick-off, awaiting the starter's gun.

The television screens of the nation were literally perspiring from all the tension in the studio - this was, after all, novice versus novicer. Mike Hosking appeared in a plume of smoke grasping a double-necked electric guitar, and set about explaining to the idiots of New Zealand how MMP works. That done, the Hosk put his guests at ease by complimenting Ardern for her exquisite dress sense. In the interests of balance, he also complimented English for his grasp of macroeconomics.


It was to be hoped, drawled Hosking, that the pair vying for "what I call the job of prime minister" would put to one side the scandals and histrionics of recent weeks and instead focus on sharing their vision for New Zealand with audiences at home. And quite right, too: the latest controversy, around Winston Peters' superannuation payments, has seen many detect a whiff of Dirty Politics; as the 2014 sequel unfolds, was a Kim Dotcom wrecking ball about to swing into the room? Would the participants in the debate even make it to the end without quitting? As you know already, reader, they would not.

The substance of the debate played out much as could be expected. It was relentlessly tentative. With half a mind, perhaps, on the fascinating poll result in the hour before the debate, the details of which I shan't bore you with here, the rivals teetered about like sumo wrestlers terrified that they'd forgotten to pin their loincloths. Both confided that they had met a number of ordinary Kiwis up and down the country.

"You're like an ATM," said English. "You're like a magnificent rock," said Ardern. "You're like a big rudderless, tax-happy ship, but not in a sexist way," said English. "You're very good at running," Ardern shot back. "I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge that you're like a magnificent rock that is very good at running." Peter Dunne, dressed as a worm, slithered about in the background.

Ardern spent several minutes expanding on her central vision for New Zealand: that Bill English is an altogether terrific fellow, and how she wished she could shear sheep with such aptitude. English, grasping for something upbeat, rhapsodised at length about aggregate income-weighted marginal tax rates.

Conscious, perhaps, that attention was wavering, with the channel losing viewers to a live-stream close-up shot of Winston Peters' face, Hosking demanded a straight answer on the tough question. Why weren't they more like John Key? Why did they not walk and talk and laugh insouciantly like John did? What was wrong with them, he demanded, sending a cufflink flying across through the sky in anger. Neither could offer a satisfactory explanation, but both leaders agreed that children were on the whole a good thing, and that they liked them. Peter Dunne, by now metamorphosed into a polka-dot butterfly, soared into the air, collided with the lighting rig and landed with a splodge in Hosking's glass.

"Climate change is the nuclear-free New Zealand of my generation. And I can smell the plutonium on your breath," said Ardern, to a hushed silence. "I love you Mr Lange," croaked English in response. Mike Hosking took a gulp of water, swallowing Peter Dunne. The eyes of a nation widened as one.

With Peter Dunne lodged irksomely in his wind pipe, Hosking stumbled from the studio, leaving our two would-be PMs to debate without moderation. They stood in silence for some time, gazing out at the audience, into the darkness, at the palms of their own hands.

"How's it all going, then?" said Bill.


"Oh, all right," said Jacinda, scooping a severed Peter Dunne antenna from the studio floor. "It's mostly just selfies, to be honest. You?"

"Yeah, a bit of that. A lot of holding different kinds of food. A lot of standing in vast, empty warehouses, too, you know?"


"Funny business, all this," said English. "Thing is, I didn't particularly want this job. Still not sure I do."

"Same here," sighed Ardern. "Guess neither of us had much choice in the end, not at the end of the day."

"The end of the day," said English, and they both laughed at this humorous reference to something John Key used to say a lot.


"Let's move on," chuckled Jacinda, in a pitch-perfect Helen Clark voice.

"Show me the money!" snorted Bill.

And so they continued in this manner, deep into the night, as the storm raged all around them.