Analysis – Riding high on the back of a stellar public poll, ACT leader David Seymour was the standout performer at the finance debate in Queenstown tonight.
Based on the One News Colmar Brunton poll ACT would bring nine MPs into Parliament, with 7 percent of the vote.
Seymour was clearly pumped when he arrived and, as the MPs made their way to the stage, it was the man from Epsom who got the most rapturous applause.
Queenstown is National country but the party’s finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith wasn’t winning the crowd over.
Labour’s numbers man, Grant Robertson, took the runner-up mantle – although he also won the award for the most interruptions – barely being able to contain himself every time Seymour had the microphone.
The ASB finance debate was hosted by Newshub political editor Tova O’Brien, who ran it less as a debate and more an all-out brawl at times.
New Zealand First’s Fletcher Tabuteau and the Green Party’s James Shaw were also there, although most of the time it seemed they weren’t.
The crowd of more than 400 – the first public gathering of this size since the bulk of the country returned to alert level 1 – were enthusiastic contributors and the heckling started early.
First cab off the rank in the debate was National’s $4 billion hole – an error made by Goldsmith in producing his party’s alternative budget, which was revealed by Robertson on Sunday just an hour before the National Party campaign launch.
Seymour, appearing to be somewhat sympathetic to Goldsmith’s maths mishap, weighed in to help his colleague and competition in the Epsom seat.
That help came in the form of “in defence of my constituent”, which garnered a lot of cheers and laughter.
Robertson, who was stuck between the pair on stage, helpfully offered a new nickname, “brothers of Epsom”.
It wasn’t long before Seymour was back with the one-liners when Shaw finally entered the debate telling Goldsmith “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”.
Seymour jumped in with “what about crystals?” – an easy dig at Shaw’s support of the controversial Taranaki Green School.
Starting to get a little too sure of himself, Goldsmith told Seymour not to be so “cocky” after he suggested National had simply been reading ACT’s website for policy ideas.
Seymour responded that it was “hard work coming up with two parties’ policies” but he could “handle it”.
Almost immediately he realised his mistake and cleared up that he wasn’t responsible for Goldsmith’s poorly calculated budget.
Even Tabuteau admitted Seymour was entertaining but pointed out he had no chance of being in government.
“He’ll be telling great one-liners but not achieving anything.”
Most eyes were on the leader’s debate between Labour’s Jacinda Ardern and National’s Judith Collins tonight.
While that audience might have got some civilised uninterrupted takes from the leaders, in Queenstown the crowd got a belly full of laughs and an inside look at what Question Time might look like if the Speaker of the House called in sick.