My gosh, it's amazing, what an incredible thing that no one expected to see in the debate. Michelle Grattan smiled! And even cracked a joke - with Laurie! Oh, how my heart did flutter with joy.
Less importantly, the debate went ahead with quiet determination rather than gusto on the part of the participants. Howard and Latham both took a very risk averse approach to the debate, hammering out some preprepared lines and a few clever 'squirrels' of the questions asked just to make sure they got their message through. There was a lack of discipline on behalf of the moderator Laurie (perhaps he was too enamored with Michelle?) who too often would follow one leader's comments by inviting the other to respond, and to then respond to the response, and respond to the response to the response. A bit like dueling banjos after a while.
Latham looked surprisingly strong on national security, wisely avoiding a heavy hand on Iraq, and instead emphasising the need for a more localised, regional approach to defeating terror. His message about Howard being too busy fighting on the other side of the world rather than focusing on genuine local threats was a good one, and had Howard on the ropes. Latham was too clever for his own good when he tried to bring Howard's succession plan into the debate on security, when it lead Latham to suggest that the war on terror could be won in three years. We like optimism, Mark, but we prefer reality. Ultimately, on that issue, Howard seemed more self-assured and presented himself as having a steady hand on the wheel compared to the young buck challenger.
On the raft of domestic issues, Latham hit the mark. Medicare and funding for schools got a run, and Latham made Howard look like he was merely playing to his constituents rather than the national interest. It was here that Latham managed to get out his ladder of opportunity, and even allowed himself to look down at the lower rungs that he had climbed in his younger days.
A few quick observations from an interesting night...
- Latham seemed to have problems with his posture. While Howard was looking straight down the barrel of the camera for much of it and was well lit, Latham seemed to stare 30 degrees to the right, creating a poor shadow and shifty eyes.
- As predicted, the panel was clumsy, poorly structured and seemed to lack a point. With just two questions each, but seemingly a mountain of questions for the compare, it just didn't look right.
- Surprisingly, neither Howard nor Jim Middleton (the panelist who discussed leadership issues) brought up Latham's relative inexperience.
- The worm produced an amazingly pro-Latham result. From the clips shown, it appeared that voters were tiring of Howard's stale conservative approach, and warmed to a bubbly Latham. Surprisingly, national security played better for Latham than for Howard.
- Unusual choice by Nine to chose Annabel Crabb as their guest pontificator. Crabb is good talent and very presentable (TV talk for 'a bit of orright') but seems a tad verbose for the rigours of commercial television. Why not use the in-house talent at Nine?
And my verdict? Latham, but only just, and certainly not the 67-33 split given by the worm puppeteers.