Political showdown ends quietly

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 22:00 11/08/2014
stuff.co.nz

PM John Key and an assortment of politicians face off in the only multi-candidate election event.

John Key
Getty Zoom
PM: John Key received cheers and boos when he arrived at the event in Kumeu.

John Key arrives for candidates meeting.

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OPINION: The ingredients were all there for an explosive showdown.

A packed hall, ugly behaviour on the campaign trial, protesters holding vigil outside and a much hyped candidates meeting pitching Prime Minister John Key against his Internet Mana rivals Laila Harre and Hone Harawira.

But try and tell the local organisers of the Kumeu meet the candidates meeting that.

Key and and his opponents were quickly brought down to earth by questions about local concerns like the Waimuku roundabout.

Strict rules against sledging and a promise to turf out those who broke them also kept the candidates in line.

Organisers of the event must have wondered if they had bit off more than they could chew, however, when they decided to stage the meeting after Harre threw her hat into the ring in Helensville.

Her presence guaranteed a national audience and ensured the other parties were well represented in the audience and support crew.

The crowds started gathering an hour before the doors opened and had to be closed on about 50 people who could not be squeezed into the tiny Kumeu Baptist church.

A giant screen set up in the next door tea room was their only view of the debate.

Some of the locals might have been miffed by the number of party supporters who looked to have been shipped in from out of the electorate.

But it was an old fashioned meet the candidates meeting, and without the biffo of some of the more famous such events in other centres over the years.

Expectations of a show down built after a day in which tensions were ratcheted up between National and Internet Mana over recent incidents including Key's effigy being burnt.

There has also been a war of words over Internet Party founder Kim Dotcom leading crowds led in anti-Key chants.

But the closest Key and Harre got to hostilities was when Harre urged Helensville voters to give her their vote to "change the Government".

Turning up to the debate was always a risk for Key, whose presence gifted Harre and Harawira a rare opportunity to go head to head with the prime minister on the national stage.

They won't get the opportunity again on the campaign trail given that the televised debates have increasingly quarantined the minor party leaders from the leaders of Labour and National.

But in the end it was a mostly polite affair, meaning Key, as the candidate with the most to lose, walked away the winner.

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