The defining moment of an election

I suspect that we will look back on this election campaign and think to ourselves that the defining moment of the election was on Wednesday 2 November 2011 at about 8:30 PM.

That was the moment that Phil Goff lost the election.

In what should have been a little known town hall meeting in provincial city instead turned into the most defining moment of the election. Just 600 people attended the meeting and it wasn’t broadcast on television. Instead it was live streamed to the internet, people around the country followed comments of media commentators and attendees on Twitter and the exposure turned out to be devastating for Phil Goff.

Only political tragics would have been watching the streaming from Stuff’s website. Indeed I was having a birthday dinner. But the moment came and as recorded by Claire Trevett it was devastating:

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By rights this debate should have slipped under the radar, but because of the internet and tools that allow streaming, tools like Twitter and Facebook that moment turned the election despite what actually happened in a town hall in Christchurch. It matter not that Phil Goff may have won the first half, or the second half or even the debate, what matters is what has been reported, that Phil Goff couldn’t answer a simple question about how he was going to pay for his promises.

That was the defining moment and it is perpelxing. Why didn’t Phil Goff know? Why wasn’t he prepared?

National had signalled they were going to take apart Labour on the numbers. They had launched a website specifically for this purpose. At some stage in a debate paying for election bribes was going to come up and for some inexplicable reason Phil Goff was left flapping and gasping like a trout on the river bank.

Think about that for a moment. Phil Goff can usually recite numerous facts and figures, and dates and details. He should be able to, he is wanting to be Prime Minsiter. He has 27 years in aprliament, he is an old hand at this.

And yet he was flummoxed. He floundered, and he flapped. Why was Phil Goff so under prepared for that one simple question. Why was he not able to show us the money?

I am fast coming to the conclusion that he was set up for the fall. Not by National but by his own party. He was clearly fed wrong information. If that is the case then that is treason from within Labour. When you think about it there can really be no other reason. But the treason appears to have continued for two more days.

Firstly Phil Goff was so woefully prepared for financial questions, that is so out of character it must have been deliberate. then it took two more days to even come close to producing the figures, and when they produced the figures they were still wrong, the messaging was all over the place and the infographics were dreadful. It looked like a rush job, it looked like Phil Goff was inept. If, as David Cunliffe said, that the release of the figures was always planned for that Friday then why was it so appalling badly handled. The infographic debacle shows they weren’t prepared.

But I just can’t believe that Phil Goff is that inept. He was a competent minister, acknowledged by all sides of the political spectrum to be in command of his portfolios. I can’t believe it was a brain-fart. Usually I go for cock-up over conspiracy, but in this case I can’t.

The only saving grace for Phil Goff in all of this is that the person most responsible for stuffing him up on Wednesday night cacked in his own nest on Friday night with an intemperate remark about the Corrections Minister.

But that one moment when John Key demanded that Phil Goff “Show me the money” should be recorded as the defining moment of the election campaign. It destroyed Phil Goff’s and Labour’s economic credibility and it focussed the election campaign onto the finances of the country and to the large election promises from labour when the cupboard is bare.