2017 in politics: The champs and the flops

16 top politics watchers name their winners and losers from a tumultuous political year.

Today we launch the Spinoff’s political year in review with a collection of the champs and flops. The question: Who would you rank as the best performing individuals (or parties/institutions/whatever) in NZ politics for 2017? (And why, if you like.)

To come in the next few days: 2017 in a sentence and predictions for 2018.

Graham Cameron

Champs

  1. Andrew Little. The most clear thinking, courageous decision of the year was to step aside for Jacinda Ardern. He deserves the knighthood John Key received.
  2. James Shaw. An ill-advised party election strategy, high on integrity and justice and low on strategic nous, nearly ended the Greens. Shaw stood in the breach and held back the tide.
  3. Polling companies. Few voters can articulate a party’s policy platform now, but they know how the party is polling. Many voters want to vote for winners, so polling companies are now central to voters’ decision making.

Flops

  1. Metiria Turei. I love her values and her mission, but she showed a naivety that sent her career down in flames. How could she have not done her homework on every angle of attack that was likely to come?
  2. Tukuroirangi Morgan. He seemed deaf to advice and arrogant in the extreme to try and bully Māori voters with their beloved Kīngitanga. To my mind he bears the lion’s share of the responsibility for the (near) death of the Māori Party.
  3. Gareth Morgan. He combines intelligence with hate for actual people, like a flesh and blood HAL 9000. TOP was a real 5% chance if he could have Just. Stopped. Tweeting.

Graeme Edgeler

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern (with an assist from Andrew Little). Leader of the Opposition is supposedly the worst job in politics, and it is even more difficult to take it over in the middle of a campaign, and also hard to know that’s the time you need to step down.
  2. Trevor Mallard. An award in the vein of Obama’s Peace Prize: I’m looking forward to great things in terms of the openness of parliament, and hope he can deliver. There are good signs, in the review of standing orders undertaken at the end of the last parliament, Mallard took a stand and had an individual position (not even supported by party colleagues) included in the select committee report.
  3. Christopher Bishop. I owe a couple of people beers from betting against Bish winning Hutt South, but he gets a spot anyway. Although undoubtedly helped by the fact he lives within commuting distance from parliament, he set a standard for list MPs in how to earn a place in parliament in an electorate held by the other party, and in three years we’ll know whether the likes of Kiri Allen have successfully implemented the lesson.

Flops

  1. The multiple people who must have seen Metiria Turei’s prepared remarks on welfare, who didn’t insist that if she was going to give that speech, she also announce in it the amount of money she had that morning arranged to be repaid to Work and Income. It still may not have been enough to get her through the furore that followed, but it would have increased the chances.
  2. Clare Curran. It’s a little unfair to pick on Clare, but as probably the biggest proponent of open government while in opposition, her failure to get her cabinet and ministerial colleagues to offer up even a pretense of increasing openness and accountability
  3. Bill English. Almost doesn’t deserve to be here, because he had a good campaign. But his adoption of Steven Joyce’s “fiscal hole” has done damage to a hard earned reputation. There was a legitimate line of criticism of Labour’s spending promises (“they can’t be trusted to keep to their plan”), but he chose to back up an indefensible one with a simply made up number (“their plan, which spends several billion more than we would, is still $11b short of balancing”), and lost a lot of build up credibility. Imagine if he’d taken an early opportunity to chastise Joyce for his idiocy, while also making a measured critique. Probably wouldn’t have changed the election, but could have changed politics.

Emma Espiner

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern. For resurrecting the Labour Party in spite of their own absurd rules which almost prevented her from taking the leadership. Unthinkable now, but true.
  2. Andrew Little. For having the humility to step down when he was losing, for doing it with grace and for picking himself up and transforming himself into one of the most promising ministers in the new government.
  3. Winston Peters. The most successful politician in New Zealand history. You decide whether that’s a compliment or not.

Flops

  1. The Māori Party. We can debate where the fault lies but ultimately they lost and lost badly.
  2. Waikato DHB. Whatever went on there, it wasn’t good.
  3. Herd immunity. VACCINATE YOUR CHILDREN.

Leonie Hayden

Champs

  1. SWARBRICK, Chlöe. For going from lolz millennial mayoral candidate to MP in two years, advocating for compassionate, evidence-based policy and looking super unflappable in a crisp white shirt while she does it. Absolutely remarkable woman whose importance historically will be significant imo.

  1. GODFERY, Morgan. “Who’s this little shit?” is what I imagine a number of people said when Morgan popped up during election coverage. His robust questioning and excellent analysis kept pressure on candidates to be accountable to Māori and Treaty issues. That’s my jam.

Flops

  1. PLUNKO, Sean. Belligerent bully.
  2. MORGAN, G. Hater of cats, morons and tact.
  3. The Internet Party. How is it possible for a party with “the internet” in the name to do so poorly in 2017?

Joshua Hitchcock

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern. Labour were gone. Sinking in the polls. The turnaround was quite spectacular.
  2. Bill English. We saw a different Bill English on the campaign trail. Determined. Passionate. 44% and in opposition has got to sting. Still, better than 21%.
  3. Greater Auckland. Has led the charge on transport transformation in Auckland, that its proposals have been adopted by the government is a wonderful achievement and a sign of good things to come for Auckland.

Flops

  1. Steven Joyce. That $11 billion hole still has yet to be found. No matter how determined he is to locate it.
  2. The Green Party. Yes, they are in government for the first time, but to do so at the expense of one of the strongest Māori MP in a long time is a great shame, and a sign of poor political management.
  3. Gareth Morgan. The 5% threshold should be eliminated, but it did save us from three years of TOP in parliament. Abusive trolling on Twitter is not a great way to approach politics.

Stephen Jacobi

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern – three months ago, who would have thought ?!
  2. NZ’s trade negotiators – you can’t kill a good idea and now we have CPTPP, the new, improved version of TPP!
  3. The Waterview tunnel – 25 minutes from my apartment to the airport, brilliant!

Flops

  1. Metiria Turei – totally misread the politics
  2. Don Brash – please make him stop on te reo Māori
  3. The anti-TPP crowd cos we’re still in business

Nicola Kean

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern. Managed to smash a whole political career arc into less than a year, from list MP to Mt Albert MP to deputy Labour leader to leader to prime minister
  2. Winston Peters. Lost Northland but won enough party votes to hold the balance of power, and boy didn’t he know it
  3. Andrew Little. The unsung hero of Labour’s election victory, stood aside for the good of his party and ended up justice minister (and when you ask him about it, he just shrugs it off).

Flops

  1. Bill English. Led his party to its worst loss in 2002, got back up, led his party to a massive third-term result, ended up opposition leader – it’s crazy when you stop to think about it.
  2. The Māori Party. Taken out by a combination of a resurgent Labour and their own hubris.
  3. Gareth Morgan/Sean Plunket /TOP – I can’t even

Annabelle Lee

Champs

  1. Susan Devoy for her unrelenting pursuit of justice for Ngā Mōrehu – survivors of state abuse.
  2. Jacinda Ardern. Let’s face it, it was shaping up to be the most boring AF election in history until she decided to pony up – and I feel like it would be churlish not to.
  3. Kim Hill for making politicians poo their pants for my listening pleasure

Flops

  1. Everyone involved in the Waikato DHB scandal and the Southland DHB scandal but mostly Jonathan Coleman. SMH at you Coleman.
  2. HNZ for kicking families out of their homes based on dodgy meth tests and when no prior control tests have been conducted. You’re not in the business of wrecking lives.
  3. Whoever leaked Winston’s super info, because that shit backfired big time.

Toby Manhire

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern. An outrageous year. From that first press conference on, Ardern demonstrated that she is as quick-witted and decisive as she is empathetic and upbeat. Given the hail Mary of her last minute ascent, even if she hadn’t ended up prime minister it would have something miraculous.
  2. Bill English. Ardern wasn’t the only party leader who needed persuading to take the job on – in his case for the second time round. He, too, outperformed expectations: 45% for a third term government party is no mean feat.
  3. Metiria Turei. The Greens were seriously struggling for traction in the leadup to the campaign, and Turei decided to open the book on her own past, in an effort to shine a light on the lives of beneficiaries – New Zealanders who so rarely get a voice, and are subject to routine debasement and caricature.

(Honourable mentions to Winston Peters – if he’s our version of Trump/Farage/LePen/Wilders then we’re blessed, and he could hardly have run the negotiations more efficiently or tactfully – and James Shaw, who somehow managed to keep the Green Kombi van on the road as tyres popped and gaskets blew.)

Flops

  1. Gareth Morgan. If MMP were reformed as it should be, the Opportunities Party would be in parliament, without having to scale the daunting first-up 5% threshold. But here was a sorry reminder that a wealth of intelligence and cash still count for little (in NZ, anyway) if you behave like an arse.
  2. Peter Thiel. For someone who won his citizenship in part owing to the promise of being an “ambassador” for New Zealand, it’s pretty shit that he hasn’t had a word to say to his compatriots. Pipe up, Pete.
  3. Metiria Turei. Hindsight is easy, but she and her team had clearly not played out fully what might happen – the failure, for example, to have at least started squaring the historic debt up with Winz, was careless.

Wayne Mapp

Champs

  1. Got to be Jacinda Ardern. At the beginning of the year, even she could not have thought she would be PM at year’s end.
  2. Winston Peters, the one man who chose the government.
  3. Bill English, grace under pressure.

Flops

  1. ACT. Keeps disappointing the right, but should be able to do better with the gift of Epsom.
  2. Gareth Morgan. Just too rude.
  3. Māori Party. Really unlucky.

Tainui Stephens

Champs

  1. Clearly the grace of Andrew Little in withdrawing from the leadership with exquisite timing.
  2. Clearly Jacinda Ardern for not being fucking John fucking Key.
  3. Clearly Winnie who, as a gnarly old croc can look with satisfaction upon a year when he used the spotlight well, and saw a staggering number of a new generation of Māori politicians enter the house – all of whom were inspired by him as a lifelong exemplar of the dark arts of politics. It’s a dubious compliment, and in the complement of Māori MPs one finds the usual range from dickhead to brilliant. But hey, fuck it. We’re in the game! Nice one Winnie.

Flops

  1. National by and large, for their cynical arseholery.
  2. The Māori Party for being too good to be good.
  3. Don Brash for blind bravery as the towering face of stupidity.

Ben Thomas

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern. You can’t beat the champ. Ardern started 2017 as an underused and underperforming opposition list MP; she ends it as a beloved prime minister. She added remarkable steel to go with her obvious emotional intelligence and charisma to restore Labour’s fortunes and negotiate Winston Peters (and power) away from National after the election.
  2. Bill English. Ran the campaign of his life and held together National’s support in the face of Jacindamania, meaning the party enters opposition from a position of some strength. In less than a year as prime minister English showed how the office can be used to set policy direction across government, rather than simply act as a life-support system for FM radio media stunts.
  3. James Shaw: Resurrected his party – and, based on the “freshly dug grave” look he sported throughout the campaign, himself – when it faced an existential threat. Showed what can be achieved by subjugating ego after the hubristic Metiria Turei threatened to sink the party, and led the Greens for the first time into government, even if New Zealand First won’t let them admit it.

Flops

  1. State Services Commission: The scandal of Winston Peters’ superannuation overpayments was eclipsed by the scandal of how his private information had been released by public servants to politicians. The State Services Commission, the guardian of public sector neutrality, spilled the tea to its own minister who described the information – which somehow then leaked to media – as “great gossip”.
  2. Jonathan Coleman. Personified the do-nothing, official-led tendencies of too many National ministers in the third term, only jerking into action over mental health once it had become a full blown electoral crisis, rather than a public health one.
  3. Māori Party. It’s harsh to describe the Māori Party as a “flop”: 2017 saw big wins in RMA reforms, and the new government seems set to continue flagship Māori Party policies it attacked from opposition. But seats – or the prospect of another foreshore style betrayal by Labour – it’s hard to see any future as a parliamentary force.

Andrea Vance

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern. For obvious reasons, but also for giving Australia a kick-up-the-arse over Manus Island. And for slapping down unacceptable questions about her parenting plans.
  2. James Shaw. Potentially only Bill English has had a worse year. Three months ago who would have thought the Greens would be back in parliament, never mind in government. If you see him over the summer break, buy that dude a beer.
  3. Danielle Mackay. A surf life-saver from Levin who refused to lie down and take a Ministry of Health decision not to fund her cochlear implant. This fierce lady managed not only to overturn the decision in her case… but persuaded Jonathan Coleman to fund implants for 39 other people. My hero.

Flops

  1. Steven Joyce. For trying to con us all over the $11bn hole. Show us the money, Steven.
  2. Metiria Turei. She has paid a huge price for a political gamble that didn’t pay off. But the political landscape might look very different today without her benefit fraud confession.
  3. Opinion writing. Because for every brilliant piece of journalism produced by Nippert, Fisher etc, some muppet pinging a push notification heralding the ill-formed dribblings of a middle-aged has-been. Make it stop.

Guy Williams

  1. How Jacinda isn’t nominated for New Zealander of the year amazes me??? Like at least a nomination!
  2. Paddy Gower. I’m a little sceptical of his tabloid style scandals but I felt like he was everywhere during the election! I was sick of the guy by the end of it!
  3. John Key. Him stepping down probably opened the door for the opposition so professionally it was an awful time to leave but personally it was great! It saved the Max the humiliation of having to post a “my Dad’s in opposition” vlog.

Flops

  1. Those two old white guys who pulled out of the Greens to protest Metiria. If Young Thug was analysing NZ politics he would say that these guys went out like idiots. Which shouldn’t happen if you’re an OG.
  2. Don Brash, Sean Plunket, Duncan Garner. It’s a rough year for old white men, as the world goes by without them.
  3. The TOP party actually was kind of onto something so I shouldn’t be too mean, but what a waste of a couple of million dollars. Gareth Morgan seemed to do huge damage to his own reputation as he seemed to completely lack any understanding of the political system. Who was giving him advice? Oh, Plunket. Morgan told me he wouldn’t be back but if we’ve learnt anything from Colin Craig you can definitely make serious challenges in that second year.

Simon Wilson

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern, because obv.
  2. James Shaw, whose party was headed for annihilation and would have got there with Jacindamania in full cry, if he had not been able, post Metiria Turei’s resignation, to focus every single thing the party did on climbing back into contention. And now he’s a minister of the crown.
  3. Winston Peters, who played it well, but he’s not higher on this list because he was always going to be there or thereabouts. The other two were breakout stars.

Flops

  1. Bill English. His to lose, and he lost it. Sorry, everyone says he ran a great campaign, but that’s National spin and it’s just not true. English allowed Steven Joyce to wreck his credibility (in finance, of all things) with the $11 billion fiscal hole. He retreated to a pathetic attempt to stir up country against town (it didn’t work: the swing to Labour was biggest in the rural areas and the South Island). He just watched as his vitally important ally the Māori Party got obliterated. And there was Todd Barclay – if moral failure was a crime he’d be in jail forever, and Bill English let himself get covered in Barclay ordure. How long before someone puts him out of his misery?
  2. Paula Bennett. Wasn’t she going to be the laughing hyena who ripped out the opposition’s throats? Didn’t land a single decent bite. And got herself undone by a comedian. Paula Bennett will not be the next National leader and her campaign fails are a big part of the reason why.
  3. Kelvin Davis. There are contexts in which he’s very good. Turns out political leadership might not be one of them.

Danyl Mclauchlan

Like most super-normal New Zealanders I’ve spent the long, tranquil summer evenings reading a biography of Adolf Hitler: at the end of 1932 all of the newspaper columnists gleefully anointed Hitler the loser of the political year. His career was over. The National Socialist Party was doomed. Kurt von Schleicher was the future of German politics! Yet only a few weeks later Hitler was Chancellor, thanks to the vagaries of Wiemar’s MMP-like political system, and the pundits still thought he was a terrible politician because the only Cabinet positions he cared about were the army and police, and what good were they? A few months after that he was undisputed dictator of Germany. That’s made me really question the wisdom of these winner-loser lists. What if I announce Gareth Morgan the loser of the year, and come February he’s running the country, somehow, and his goons are beating me up in a soundproofed basement for my lack of loyalty to the new national cult of evidence-based-policy? You never know.

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