A pantheon of observers of New Zealand politics were asked to cast their minds over 2015, select champs and flops, ups and downs, and the story to look out for in 2016. Today, Part One: The Champs.
We asked our experts to rank the three best performing individuals in politics for 2015. Below, read the breakdown of votes and adjudicators’ comments. But first, the big winners, based on assigning three points for first, two for second, and one for third …
Top of the pops with a ripsnorting 28 points is Kelvin Davis, the Labour MP for Te Tai Tokerau and Spokesperson for Māori Development and Corrections. Credited as the standout member of the opposition, Davis has impressed with a straight-shooting and forthright approach on the Serco Mt Eden Prison farrago as well as the detention of NZ citizen “501s” on Christmas Island and in other Australian detention centres.
The Political Champs, 2015
1. David Seymour: Exceeded expectations, carved out a niche as a sensible, responsive MP on broader issues (eg World Cup drinking).
2. Bill English: Relentlessly pursuing his policy agenda
3. James Shaw: Adding some reasonableness to the Greens
Michelle Boag is a former National Party President and PR practitioner
1. David Seymour: He managed to keep the ACT flag flying despite being a one MP party. He promoted some really important issues, including partnership schools and the need to look again at doctor-assisted dying, not forgetting his sponsoring the law change to allow Kiwis to have a drink while watching the RWC games. Though dependent on the goodwill of the National Party, he didn’t shirk from pointing out where they were being wimpish.
2. Kelvin Davis: Before the 2011 election, Kelvin Davis had the courage to point out the need to increase the age of eligibility for NZ Super, even before that became Labour Party policy. Since being elected in 2014, he has had the courage to distance himself from the Labour Party in his support for partnership schools, recognising the positive role such schools can play in helping Maori kids. He has held the Government to account over the treatment of prisoners in the Serco-run prison, and highlighted the plight of New Zealanders held in detention on Christmas Island by actually going there. He’s one to watch for the future.
3. Tim Groser: Potentially the most significant single event for New Zealand’s future this year was the agreement of 12 countries to the Trans Pacific Partnership. It’s not yet ratified by any of the 12 parliaments of course, but until agreement was reached most people thought that would never happen. That it did happen owes a great deal to the hard work and skill of Tim Groser.
Don Brash is a former leader of the National and ACT parties
1. Kelvin Davis: Champion extraordinaire of those without a voice in our increasingly economically divided society. His persistence on the issue of deportation is well known, but he is also a high profile and important activist around eliminating violence against women and working for survivors.
2. Tim Groser: Love or hate the TPPA, or his sometimes pompous air and slating of critics and activists he did the job; and he is committed to getting something out of the Paris climate talks, which is an important next step.
3. Jacinda Ardern: For her composure and staunch resistance to the tired, sexist tripe trotted out by pundits from the right and left and everywhere else who have stooped to new lows in political commentary. Of course the year started with implicitly sexist jibes over Eleanor Catton’s foray into politics by criticising neoliberalism.
Jennifer Curtin is an Associate Professor in Politics at the University of Auckland
1. Paula Bennett: Has really polished up and is driving through some challenging policy stuff in welfare.
2. Kelvin Davis: Serco. It was an important turn of events and could thwart future poorly conceived privatisation schemes.
3. Winston Peters: Northland. Inspired stuff. Even though his stance on migrants makes me swear on live national TV.
Shamubeel Eaqub is an economist
1. Charles Walker, MP for Broxbourne, Chair of the House of Commons Procedure Committee: In March, outgoing Leader of the United Kingdom House of Commons William Hague, tried to pull one over the House of Commons on the last sitting day before the United Kingdom election, in an effort get rid of the Speaker, John Bercow, who, while a Government MP, is not popular with the party leadership. Walker’s brief speech is glorious, and he spoke against – and voted against – a proposal he not only supported, but proposed because of the shabby way his own party leaders had tried to get it adopted. Declaring himself to “have been played a fool” he got a well-deserved standing ovation from his political opponents, and is this year’s political champ.
2. 3D Investigates: Proving the worth of public investment in current affairs, the ten special New Zealand on Air funded episodes of now-departed TV3 current affairs show 3D that were dubbed “3D investigates” were the best New Zealand television of the year. Never more important than their first Investigates episode, into deaths of two soldiers in the Battle of Baghak. They didn’t get all the answers, but they were asking the right questions.
3 = Sue Moroney and David Parker: Both MPs got lucky in having a member’s bill drawn from the ballot at a time when such bills can pass despite government opposition, but there’s skill in drafting a bill that upholds core party values, has public cut-through, and is simply drafted.
Graeme Edgeler is a lawyer and Public Address blogger
1. Kelvin Davis
2. Judith Collins
3. Jacinda Ardern
Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago
1. James Shaw
2. Jacinda Ardern
3. Marama Davidson
Marianne Elliott is National Director for ActionStation
1. Kelvin Davis
2. Winston Peters
3. Amy Adams
David Farrar is the Kiwiblogger and a pollster whose clients include the National Party
1. Kelvin Davis: He stands for something (and he isn’t afraid to work for it)
2. James Shaw: From first termer to Green co-leader, not bad, eh?
3. Winston Peters: The King of the North.
Morgan Godfery is a writer and activist
1. Phil Goff: For successfully navigating Labour away from vigorous opposition to the TPPA while simultaneously endearing himself to left Auckland as its putative mayoral candidate. As a TPPA-opposing Goff-for-Mayor supporter (and one who did not vote for Len Brown a second time) I put my activist dissonance down to (a) my recognition that Labour are irrelevant to the TPPA and it’s just another lost opportunity for them to reject neoliberalism and get on with changing politics; and (b) Goff is the kind of operator who can help activate the current abundance of transformative ideas in Auckland while keeping his pants on. Personally I’d prefer a Pasifika woman as Mayor of Auckland – but right now she is nowhere to be seen.
2. Rowan Simpson and Toby Manhire: I am not just sucking up to the political editor of The Spinoff here. We chose Red Peak as the Zeitgeist-capturing icing for the inaugural Ika Christmas Cake because its arrival on the ballot captured all the confusion and fragmentation of the political year. That Manhire and Simpson were able to cut through the shambles on the progressive side of politics, not to mention the joke aka the Flag Consideration Panel, and force Red Peak onto the ballot with a couple of opinion pieces and no organisation represented a victory for a new kind of political movement. I’m just not quite sure what it is yet!
3. Helen Kelly: Helen Kelly takes this slot ahead of Jackie Blue and James Shaw (my runners up). When my mum was terminally ill a very good friend said she’d learned from her father’s death that people die the same way they live. Helen is doing that – in the spotlight and by sprinkling her fiery fairy dust on her chosen causes – including, now, the legalisation of medical cannabis. Her health and safety advocacy work has been the humane ideal in action.
Laila Harré is a restaurateur and former Alliance MP
1. Bill English
2. Andrew Little
3. David Seymour
Bernard Hickey is the publisher of Hive News
1. John Key: After seven years as PM, still top of the pops. Where were Clark, Bolger, Lange or Muldoon seven years after first being elected prime minister?
2. Kelvin Davis: Established himself as a national figure (in political circles anyway) for his stand on Christmas Island.
3. James Shaw: Has managed the Greens through another leadership change, a process that can create an existential risk for a small(ish) party.
Matthew Hooton is a public affairs strategist
2. John Key
3 = Marama Fox, David Seymour
Toby Manhire is Spinoff Politics Editor and a columnist for NZ Herald and RNZ.
1. Kelvin Davis: His work showed why the private prison provider, Serco, is not up to the job and prisons should be run by the state. He pursued the government so actively over detainees on Christmas Island that the Labour leader took the issue off him – only for it to promptly backfire and disappear.
2. James Shaw: The MP people discuss around the water cooler – although possibly he is interesting more for what he isn’t and doesn’t do than for any accomplishment – yet: he doesn’t have his predecessor’s know-it-all sneer, and he hasn’t said anything fringe crazy. This is a new kind of Green.
3. Winston Peters: For winning. To what end, I can’t be sure. But he has earned credit for doing what any self-respecting opposition does – wrestling a safe seat off the incumbent. National, who used to loathe him, now have to pretend to be nice to him. Labour’s assumption that he is certain to help them into government with the Greens is not likely to enhance its strategists’ reputation for genius.
Josie Pagani is a communications consultant and former Labour candidate
1. Bill English: Seriously, look at the last three budgets he produced – Michael Cullen would be proud.
2. David Seymour: Yes, he has a Mr Bean quality about him but as a lone man in parliament he has weirdly shone.
3. Kelvin Davis: Currently the only truly effective member of the opposition.
Bill Ralston is a former political editor, communications adviser and prospective Auckland Council candidate
1. Helen Clark: New Zealand was obviously too small a challenge for her. She is making an extraordinary contribution as Administrator of the UNDP and is a serious contender for Sec Gen of the UN.
2. Annette King: No mean feat to still be exerting that much influence and leadership in the Labour party after 30 years in politics.
3. Rowan Simpson: Not a politician, but he authored THE Dear John letter that snowballed into a social media storm resulting in Red Peak being added to the first flag referendum. Never before has public pressure on social media had such a material political impact in this country.
Claire Robinson is Pro Vice-Chancellor College of Creative Arts, Massey University
1. Winston Peters
2. Andrew Little
3. Amy Adams
Rob Salmond is a political analyst whose clients include the Labour Party
1. Kelvin Davis
2. David Seymour
3. Winston Peters
David Slack is a speechwriter and author
1. Bill English: The Finance Minister seems to be doing a victory lap after his surplus. He’s deservedly allowed himself to talk up the significant under-the-hood Crown reform he has overseen now that it’s bedded in, from the algorithm-led “investment approach” in social development, to constitutional advances in the Maori-Crown relationship.
2. Winston Peters: In this focus grouped, poll-driven age Peters’ intuitive decision to contest the Northland by-election is a John Henry story of the victory of man versus (political) machine.
3. Gerry Brownlee: Dismissed as “grumpy” but Brownlee’s exemplary work as Leader of the House has not only kept the House on track despite a busy legislative programme but also saved the House from descending into complete chaos under David Carter. Also a vital big-picture advisor in the leadership to balance the government’s worst micro-managing tendencies in its third term.
Ben Thomas is a public affairs strategist and former political adviser
1. Bill English
2. Winston Peters
3. David Seymour
Chris Trotter is a political commentator
1. Kelvin Davis: Owned the government on two of the hottest stories of the year: Serco & the 501s.
2. James Shaw: From new kid to leader in seven months.
3. John Key: Not a vintage year, but he still outpaces most of the rest.
Andrea Vance is a political reporter for One News
1. John Key: The only politician who matters. Dominant. Three championships back to back to back like Michael Jordan in the 90s.
2. John Key: Second Vote. He’s pulling pony tails and he’s still super popular! It’s insane! He’s a PR genius who can’t be stopped.
3. Mike Hosking: Did an excellent job supporting John Key on his dominant media platform. The Fox News of New Zealand. That’s insulting to Mike but it’s the kind of hurtful exaggeration that he would do.
Guy Williams is a comedian
1. John Key: The doomsters are beating their drums again, but they still don’t get it. Key now has such complete control of his cabinet, his caucus and his party that they have all been reduced to the state of mere cheerleaders. From ponytail-pulling to the flag debate fiasco to the Northland byelection, Key should have had a terrible year. But he’s risen above it all.
2. Winston Peters: His victory in Northland confounded every expectation and changed the course of the government. Peters is now a more serious candidate for government coalition (after the next election) than at any time since 2005-2008 under Helen Clark.
3. Amy Adams: She’s become National’s leading female politician, a high-status role that used to belong to Judith Collins and was supposed to go to Paula Bennett but didn’t, might perhaps have been challenged for by Nikki Kaye but wasn’t, and has never even been on the horizon for Hekia Parata or Anne Tolley.
Honourable mentions to Kelvin Davis, Bill English, Jonathan Coleman, James Shaw.
Simon Wilson is editor-at-large, Metro magazine
1. Richie McCaw
2. Winston Peters
3. David Seymour
Jamie Whyte is a writer and former leader of the ACT Party
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.