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The old pragmatism versus ideology debate

Breaking the habit of a political lifetime, upton-on-line tuned into Holmes at 7 pm to catch the head to head leaders' debate between Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark.

Research reveals that readers of upton-on-line are highly articulate and politically aware, so we can safely assume that most would have viewed the debate themselves live (or failing that, that they are clever enough to programme their video recorders).

We will, therefore, make no attempt to pull the wool over such intelligent eyes. That said, it is clear to upton-on-line that Jenny Shipley won the debate hands down.

Fearing that he had lost his objectivity on this matter, upton-on-line did engage in some random polling of public responses. This wasn't as easy as one would assume. The first person was eating her dinner, and always turns Holmes off to aid her digestion. The second was out mountain-biking. The third would not reveal what he was doing. But, the old lady next door, found outside watering her garden agreed: it was a relief to find the two leaders finally face to face, looking each other in the eye and fighting it out.

Helen Clark slipped in a few good lines and was obviously very carefully schooled (notice that she 'cared passionately' about just-about everything). But so much of what she said wafted into generalities. Vision, passion and empathy are all very well, but they do not exist simply in their being stated. One cannot conjure up a fairer New Zealand simply by wishing it.

It's one thing to say you're 'standing behind' exporters and producers by giving them $100 million, but it's not much use if you're taking $200 million away through ACC, mangling the employment system and signalling an intention to tax success. Jenny had all the figures and they were persuasive.

Helen Clark mouthed an intention to 'care passionately', but Jenny Shipley pointed out that there was plenty of passion to be found on the West Coast and the Labour leader had refused to have anything to do with it.

Light relief was offered in the ad break by Jim Anderton's beaming visage somehow inveigling itself into the debate, claiming that the Alliance would create 80,000 new jobs. Upton-on-line is astounded by Mr Anderton's confidence. How on earth can he predict such a thing and with such accuracy? Unless he plans to buy back the Railways and hire 80,000 people to run the cafeterias, organise strikes on school holidays, and to make sure the trains don't run on time.

The ad breaks also saw plenty of balloons being blown up, which was exciting, although upton-on-line found the scene rather muddied by the Westpac ads. One never knows what kind of ad one is watching these days. A little girl in Carterton, while watching one of Wyatt Creech's efforts for the National Party, is said to have confidently announced that "he works for Westpac Trust".

The most telling moment of the evening came when Mr Holmes asked Helen Clark just how wedded to ideology she was. He asked (in words to this effect) would you oppose on principle public operations being done by private health practitioners even if it could be proved that it meant more operations were done, and presumably more lives were saved? Likewise, on the roads, would you oppose tolls being placed on new roads if it could be shown that that was by far the fastest way to get a particular road built?

Despite all her avowals of pragmatism and caring passionately, she could not answer. Labour is more interested in slogans like 'a fairer society' and 'better health-care for everyone', than it is in the grubby reality of facts, compromises and reality. The purity of their ideas is more important to them than people.

National and Jenny Shipley are often accused of doing anything to stay in power. That's one way of looking at it. The other way is to say that they are willing to work with what they've got and are driven by results not empty slogans. The OECD's prediction of New Zealand having the fourth highest growth rate of its members is not a bad one to throw into the debate.

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