2016 in politics: the champs and the flops

After a political year in which New Zealand saved its most surprising moment till the very end, the Spinoff assembles a pantheon of 21 wise owls to pick out their winners and losers

Following the surprise John Key resignation and ahead of Bill English’s first cabinet reshuffle, we asked: Who would you rank as the best performing individuals in politics for 2016, and who would you rank as the worst performing?

Next week: our posse assess the performance of the parties, how they’d characterise 2016 in a sentence, and what to expect in 2017.

Shamubeel Eaqub


1. John Key

Maintained extraordinary popularity and left on a high.

2. Paula Bennett

Making deputy PM is phenomenal success.

3. Winston Peters

Somehow stays relevant to NZ politics and voters. Always the same dog whistles and always works!


1. Nick Smith

Housing is a complete and utter disaster and has gotten much worse under his watch.

2. Victoria Crone

Failed to use the mighty National Party machinery to win the Auckland mayoralty.

3. Sam Lotu-Iiga

Botched the corrections portfolio and had to fall on his sword.

Shamubeel Eaqub is a bullshit-eviscerating economist

Graeme Edgeler


1. John Key

I tried to come up with an clever or unique answer, but failed. Going out on top. His failure to sack Murray McCully for misleading cabinet to obtain millions of dollars for Saudi Sheep farming is the only major blemish on his political year.

2. Angela Merkel

Will be the first woman to hold the position of leader of the free world when her promotion takes effect in January.

3. Chris Bishop

He’s had a good year, although perhaps isn’t quite among the three best-performing individuals in politics. I’m putting him here anyway because he once asked me for suggestions for members’ bill, and the first new idea I suggested to him got drawn from the ballot and passed its first reading last week.


1. Nuk Korako

He probably didn’t draft the infamous “lost luggage” bill, but he could at least have read it before introducing it.

2. Kyle Lockwood’s Blue and Black Silver Fern Flag

A long-popular alternative to the New Zealand Flag, but not nearly popular enough. Was that really this year?

3. David Cunliffe

I don’t know why I still follow DC on twitter, but he has long outstayed his welcome and his relevance.

Graeme Edgeler is a lawyer, blogger and check on the executive

Emma Espiner


1. John Key

The only PM to leave office on his own terms, still remarkably popular and without having destroyed his party in the process.

2. Marama Fox

Established as a dexterous media performer and authentic leader with real heart and energy.

3. Jenny Salesa

Not flashy or headline grabbing but the only politician I’ve heard mentioned by a wide range of people in Auckland as someone who “gets stuff done”.


I don’t have the heart to single out three individuals. It’s unfashionable to say but they all work bloody hard and try their best. Frankly I’m so over 2016 that I just can’t be mean. Even to a politician.

Emma Espiner is a medical student, mother and social commentator

Laila Harré


1. Nicola Sturgeon

Proving the value of long lasting and evolving, institutionalised political movements, and a clarity of voice and vision. A huge influence on my decision to back Labour.

2. Helen Kelly

Especially in relation to drug law reform.

3. Michael Wood(house)

On the basis that people should be assessed here on how well they did their own job. Michael Woodhouse for responding to the call for prohibition on zero hours contracts, Michael Wood for perfect pitch and a stunning result.


1. The TPPA and all who sailed in her

2. The top brass of the flag referendum

(I thought my support for change was unassailable, until I voted for the status quo.)

3. The ones on Bill’s dismissal list

Laila Harré is a former Alliance MP turned restaurateur who has just signed up to the Labour Party

Bronwyn Hayward


1. Helen Kelly

In the year of the anti-politician, my best performing individuals in politics are New Zealanders who made a significant impact, inspiring others on issues they care about. No matter what you think about Helen Kelly’s politics, she inspired respect, was transparent about her values and campaigned to make New Zealand a more inclusive, fairer place, right to her untimely death.

2. Hurimoana Dennis

Chairman of Te Puea Memorial Marae in Mangere Bridge, south Auckland, which provided emergency accommodation for 56 families between May and July this year, Dennis’s efforts managed to change a seemingly impossibly negative NZ conversation about emergency housing, into practical action. He was positive and upfront in the face of a leak from Minister Bennett’s office about a court case he faced, and won over a distracted and fairly sceptical media

3. Lan Pham

Another little known individual who came from nowhere to make a big difference on issues she cares about. Creating a Facebook video diary from remote Raoul Island with a sincere message about Canterbury water quality, she campaigned as a fresh water ecologist and won 55,000 votes to gain a seat on Ecan, which is nearly 4 times the number of votes the NZ Act party won in the 2014 General Election. Since then, with virtually no media coverage she has motivated significant numbers of Cantabrians to go to key meetings and is helping bring decision making into the sunlight after years of no regional government elections.


1. Judith Collins

2. David Seymour

16,600 party votes, in total, and how many thousand dollars later in charter schools? Is that why he is in politics? To privatise New Zealand’s education system for the government?

3. Tim Groser

He resigned in December 2015 from climate and trade but his legacy has cast a long shadow over 2016. NZ is effectively doing less than it has in the past reducing green house gasses and while TPP was derailed by Trump, Grocer failed to win New Zealanders hearts and minds about how new trade regulations could secure their employment, safety or future.

Bronwyn Hayward is associate professor in political science at the University of Canterbury

Tau Henare


1. Bill English

2. John Key

3. James Shaw


1. Most of the Labour caucus

2. The media team at parliament, it’s been crap reporting

3. NZ First

Tau Henare is a former National and NZ First MP and troublemaker

Bernard Hickey


1. Donald Trump

2. Nigel Farage

3. Winston Peters


1. Hillary Clinton

2. David Cameron

3. Sam Lotu-liga

Bernard Hickey is the editor of Hive News

Joshua Hitchcock


1. Paula Bennett

From solo mum to deputy prime minister is an inspiring tale and the first Māori women to hold the role to boot.

2. Marama Fox

Firebrand Māori Party MP, she has been a breath of fresh air in Māori politics this year.

3. Andrew Judd

Stood up to racism in Taranaki. Lost his job as a result but a principled stand gained the respect of local Iwi.


1. Andrew Little

When you are polling 25% going into election year something has gone wrong.

2. The political right in Auckland

Trounced in the mayoral elections, trounced in the Mount Roskill byelection.

3. Parmjeet Parmar

Needs to go. Alongside whoever has been selecting National’s byelection candidates.

Joshua Hitchcock is a writer and Head of Finance and Operations at Hubbub.net

Stephen Jacobi


1. John Key

Nothing in his (political) life became him like leaving it.

2. Phil Goff

Veni, vidi, vici.

3. Todd McClay

This man actually believes in trade, give him a cheer!


1. Winston Peters

First man into Pike

2. Phil Twyford

Knows a Chinese name when he hears one.

3. Penny Bright

One-time mayoral candidate (please God …)

Stephen Jacobi is a former diplomat, policy adviser, and trade advocate

Nicola Kean


1. Bill English

Who’d have guessed he’d be PM by the end of the year?

2. Annette King and Phil Twyford

I couldn’t choose between the two, so I picked both. But I’ve placed them for the same reason: a year’s worth of chipping away at the government’s record in health and housing. King vs Coleman in Question Time was appointment viewing.

3. Publicly funded journalism

I’m obviously slightly biased, but you can’t deny the impact it’s had this year. Think about that Kim Hill interview with Anne Tolley a few weeks ago (in fact Susie Ferguson, Guyon Espiner, and the rest of the Morning Report team have been on fire this year), The Hui, Lisa Owen every damn week on The Nation, or RNZ’s Benedict Collins’ dogged work on the HNZ/meth scandal. Closest to my heart is the Mike Wesley-Smith’s agenda-setting story on homelessness from May on The Nation.


1. All the people who told me Trump wouldn’t win

Especially you, Nate Silver. I trusted you.

2. Paula Bennett

This is likely to be an unpopular call now she’s deputy PM, but let’s not forget her performance in the social housing portfolio this year. Caught on the hop by the homelessness story and had little to offer but piecemeal responses.

3. Nick Smith

The “million dollar” Housing Minister and architect of the Kermadecs snafu.

Nicola Kean is producer on TV3’s The Nation

Annabelle Lee


1. Kelvin Davis

For his unrelenting commitment to addressing family violence and keeping Corrections honest

2. Winston Peters

For his wonderful head of hair, for his remarkable ability to feign outrage and righteousness in equal parts and for being real good at politicking and stuff

3. Tukoroirangi Morgan

The new Māori Party President for making them appear relevant again when they looked set to disappear into minority coalition partner oblivion..


1. Paula Bennett

For failing to demonstrate authentic leadership by fronting up and taking part in any challenging interviews about the issues in her portfolios.

2. Anne Tolley

CYFS, nuff said.

3. Nick Smith

Housing, Kermadecs: is there nothing this man can’t balls up?

Annabelle Lee is executive producer on TV3’s The Hui and the cleverest person on the Spinoff’s political podcast

Laura O’Connell Rapira


1. Tukoroirangi Morgan

For making Māori politics great again

2. Penny Hulse

For her perseverance with the Unitary Plan, and her pronunciation of the word “mayor”

3. Chlöe Swarbrick

For surprising everyone (see what I did there? I put her in third.)


1. The TPPA

2. Lockwood Flag #1

3. Lockwood Flag #2

Laura O’Connell is ‎director of campaigns at ‎ActionStation

Claire Robinson


1. Bill English

2. James Shaw

3. David Seymour


1. Brett Hudson

2. Ian McKelvie

3. Stuart Smith

Never heard of them before I looked down the list of MPs today. Who are they and what have they done?

Claire Robinson is pro vice-chancellor, Toi Rauwharangi College of Creative Art, Massey University

David Slack


1. Chlöe Swarbrick

2. Phil Goff

3. Michael Wood


1. Nick Smith

2. Murray McCully

3. Parmjeet Parmar

David Slack is a writer and broadcaster

Tainui Stephens


1. Te Ururoa Flavell

2. Jacinda Adern

3. Bill English


1. Gerry Brownlee

2. Murray McCully

3. Mikefuckinghosking

Tainui Stephens is a film and TV producer and presenter

Ben Thomas

1. Bill English

The new champ. A thoughtful and very competent politician who has already showed more steel rejuvenating cabinet than was expected. Discussions of John Key’s legacy mainly focused on the achievements and leadership of his ministers Chris Finlayson (Māori relationships, intelligence reform), Gerry Brownlee (Christchurch rebuild) and English, the social and economic policy architect.

2. Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox

Showed real backbone over the Kermadecs, staring down the government to protect iwi consultation, and the whanau ora approach now looks like it will be a blueprint for future initiatives in wider government programmes. The two leaders have real chemistry as a double-act, recalling the heady early days of the party in 2005.

3. Amy Adams

John Key, private resident of Hawaii, was sometimes criticised during his time in public life for an awkward silence on matters affecting women. Amy Adams has taken a very hands-on approach as justice minister to domestic abuse issues. Only geography probably prevented her from becoming deputy prime minister.


1. Nick Smith

If Bill English is a humble farm boy, then Nick Smith is his Old Yeller. A full 33% of John Key’s regrets on leaving office was the failure to secure a Kermadecs Marine Reserve – as he had promised the United Nations last year – which was due entirely to Smith’s myopic bungling with Māori, a recurring theme of his latest tenure as minister. Hardworking and still a great electorate MP, but at ministerial level the equivalent of the Simpsons’ scene where Homer manages to set cereal alight by pouring milk on it.

2. Murray McCully

Bungled New Zealand’s moment in the spotlight at the UN, with New Zealand initiating and chairing a debate on Syria which ended in a superpower meltdown and US-Russian acrimony. High point was being found not guilty of criminal corruption by the Auditor General. Leaving in 2017.

3. We, the media consumers who encouraged reporting on the Colin Craig defamation trial

In this way, just like the named parties to the case, we were also both villains and victims.

Ben Thomas is a journalist turned political adviser turned PR hack at Exceltium and the cleverest person on the Spinoff’s political podcast

Andrea Vance


1. The Trump-Putin ticket

And God help us all.

2. Bill English

Books in healthy shape, and the top job. It’s his Second Coming.

3. Marama Fox

The Māori Party finally has a little bit of fire in the belly. Shame it had to be at the expense of the Kermadec Sanctuary.


1. Andrew Little

He can’t shift those polls because he’s not lifting performance.

2. Hillary Clinton

Thanks Hillary.

3. Pollsters

We’d better off with tarot card readers.

Andrea Vance is a political reporter for TVNZ news

Tim Watkin


1. John Key

For perfectly executing the coup against himself, and Bill English, the little engine who finally did.

2. Winston Peters

Who starts an election year with stronger polls than ever.

3. Michael Wood

For reminding everyone that all politics is local.


1. Paula Bennett

Ended up promoted, but has overseen a rising level homelessness with panic and no solutions

2. Murray McCully

For the “significant shortcomings” revealed in the Saudi Sheep deal, which by any decent standard would have seen him sacked.

3. Labour’s front bench

Who still haven’t done their number one job – look like a government-in-waiting

Tim Watkin is executive producer of podcasts and series and bloglord at Pundit

Jamie Whyte


1. Bill English

Prime minister!

2. John Key

Smooth exit while riding high.

3. Chlöe Swarbrick

From out of nowhere, she is now the face of youth in politics.


1. Murray McCully

Smelly sheep deal.

2. Colin Craig

Just keeps digging.

3. Victoria Crone

Great right hope, but Xero success.

Jamie Whyte is a writer and former ACT Party leader

Guy Williams


1. Winston Peters?

It’s been a bleak year … He’s positioning himself as New Zealand’s Trump.

2. Julie Anne Genter

I really like her but I’m biased/blinded cause I’ve met her personally. COOL BRAG!

3. Phil Goff/ Chlöe Swarbrick


1. Andrew Little.

He’s holding his cards so close to his chest it’s hard to notice that he’s playing!

2. Paula Bennett

Obviously becoming deputy PM has been great but her handling of the housing crisis has been horrific and who gets shown up by Jack Tame!? Amazing effort!

3. David Cunliffe and David Shearer

When the going gets tough… quit!

Guy Williams is a tall comedian, broadcaster and writer

Simon Wilson


1. John Key

Kept National ridiculously popular, left on his own terms and didn’t even get criticised for abandoning his party: how did he do that?

2. Marama Fox

One of only three MPs in parliament this year with the natural attributes of great leadership – Key and Winston Peters the other two. Includes singing, obviously. And now the big boys “on her side” are going to cut her into little pieces.

3. Chris Finlayson

The treaty settlements process rolls on extremely successfully, despite Don Brash’s absurd best efforts, and he’s even stayed good humoured about Ngapuhi – in public at least.


1. Nick Smith

The cretin who wrecked Auckland. OK, not all his fault, but more his than any other’s. Is there nobody who will save us his block-headedness?

2. Murray McCully

The Saudi sheep deal took us further down a dirty road to corruption than any other political scandal in recent memory. Although, arguably, the fact he is not sitting in the corner tarred and feathered with a big “disgraceful” sign round his neck makes him a sort of champ…).

3. Parmjeet Parmar

Simon Wilson is a writer and former editor of Metro

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