New Zealand politics in 2019: we pick the champs and the flops

As the sun sets on 2019, The Spinoff bounds into the political ocean for one final dip, in our traditional survey of the year (and nervous peer at the year to come). First up, our experts name and acclaim the champs and flops of 2019.

Alex Braae

Champs

  1. David Seymour
    In pure horse-race terms, his achievements this year are undeniable. He started the year with a party languishing in joke-territory in the polls; now they’re consistently scoring high enough to bring in other MPs. He successfully got the End of Life Choice bill through (pending a referendum). And he has carved out an electorally handy niche as the 1 on a string of 119-1 parliamentary votes.
  2. Chlöe Swarbrick
    No other first term MP has had remotely the impact she has, and she has managed to take a lot of the toxicity out of the previously ugly cannabis debate. If legalisation wins next year, it’ll be largely because of her.
  3. Adrian Orr
    For a Reserve Bank governor, he was incredibly outspoken about the need for a fiscal stimulus from the government. It took all year, but he finally got it in December.

Flops

  1. John Tamihere
    Six weeks out, I was seriously predicting to quite a few people that I thought he was going to win. His incredibly noisy and raucous campaign looked like it was going to get immense cut-through with the voting public – especially those groups that are over-represented in voting turnout figures. But in the end, it was just sound and fury, signifying nothing.
  2. Justin Lester
    The former Wellington mayor had the totally opposite problem. Ran a fairly muted campaign and got found out, even in an election which largely returned Labour and Green sympathising councillors.
  3. The Capital Gains Tax refusal from Labour
    The sheer wtf-ness of that moment still stands out, given how important a CGT was in the discussions and final report of the Tax Working Group. Not just a flop, but a moment of profoundly pathetic weakness from Labour to refuse to fight for something that there was previously every indication they believed in.

Linda Clark

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern
    She is the leader the rest of the world wishes it had.
  2. Simon Bridges
    Because he is still standing when so many doubted he would be (cue Elton John – who I suspect Simon might listen to).
  3. Andrew Little/Jan Logie
    Moving the dial on how the justice system recognises and deals with violence against women.

Flops

  1. Phil Twyford
    Nice guy, but …
  2. Alfred Ngaro’s Christian Party
    Over before it even began.
  3. Garrick Tremain
    “NZ’s funniest and most perceptive political cartoonist”, apparently. Children dying is never funny.

Emma Espiner

Champs

  1. Winston Peters
    You don’t have to like it, but he has demonstrated that he can do whatever the hell he wants as the dominant coalition partner in this government. Don’t believe the polls either, reports of Winston’s demise are always exaggerated.
  2. Shane Jones
    See above. Verbal reprimands aside, Matua Shane has few constraints on his behaviour and is out there spending the Provincial Growth Fund like he wants to win an election.
  3. Shane Jones’ hat

Flops

  1. N/A
    I’m a Hufflepuff and therefore incapable of cruelty, even towards politicians. (Don’t judge me for reading Harry Potter as a grown woman. It’s been a hard year)

Morgan Godfery

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern
    She didn’t go to Ihumātao, or tax landlords on their capital gains, or implement all the recommendations of her welfare working group, or back any policy that might dramatically reshape the country for the better, and yet she was still the right leader at the right time in 2019. No one can match Jacinda Ardern’s quick leadership, her crisp communication, and her sheer compassion and care for ordinary people and the victims of extraordinarily vile things. She is already a historically important prime minister, and is increasingly precious to the world.
  2. Pania Newton
    Pania is a rangatira, and her work weaving the people together to fight for Ihumātao is confirmation of it. I’m not sure where she finds the energy, the humility, and allies to win, yet she does. And she wins and wins and wins. Fletcher Building are pausing construction. The over the top police presence is gone. The Auckland Council and the government are in talks to purchase the land. Long may Pania’s winning streak, with the help of her cousins and SOUL, continue.
  3. Christchurch
    People rag on the garden city. It’s funny sometimes. But name a New Zealand city that has been through more, and that each and every time rises to the occasion with strength, vulnerability, and a fierce commitment to their neighbours. Resilient is a bad word for the city and its people because they’re honest enough to admit that they haven’t quite recovered. The pain from this year’s massacre, and all that happened before, lingers. But people are supporting each other, and that’s why Christchurch is a special champ.

Flops

  1. The National Party social media team
    STRIKE FORCE RAPTOR RWAAARR!
  2. Simon Bridges
    SLUSHIES!
  3. The Greens
    COMPROMISE ALL OUR PRINCIPLES!

Liam Hehir

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern
    Lit the way through our darkest hour and will always be remembered for that.
  2. James Shaw
    As a minor party leader and government minister has one of the most thankless jobs in politics. Has weathered the criticisms to achieve significant bipartisan legislative reform.
  3. Simon Bridges
    Was being written off by all and sundry at the start of the year but has kept his cool and, if polling is to be believed, now has the Beehive within striking range.
Flops
  1. Phil Twyford
    The 2019 Clare Curran – which is a shame given he’s got his head screwed on the right way on a number of issues.
  2. Winston Peters
    Now looking doubtful to get back in next year and the opaque dealings of the NZ First Foundation will continue to dog him and his government.
  3. Shane Jones
    Continued to undermine his prime minister and government without any discernible corresponding electoral payoff.

Stephen Jacobi

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern
    Led the country through extraordinarily difficult moments.
  2. James Shaw
    Idealistic but pragmatic when it comes to getting things done.
  3. Todd Muller
    Can see the big picture beyond the partisan divide.

Flops

  1. Jami-Lee Ross
    Need any more be said?
  2. Clayton (“we are the law”) Mitchell
    Ditto.
  3. Protectionists, isolationists, conspiracy theorists
    Once again they have not managed to disrupt NZ’s engagement with the rest of the world.

Annabelle Lee

Champs

  1. Māori midwives and Ngāti Kahungunu
    And everyone who stood up to Oranga Tamariki and said not one more baby.
  2. Marama Davidson
    For her staunch championing of Papatūānuku, te pani me te rawa kore.
  3. Jacinda Ardern
    Who despite not being brave enough on Māori issues has outstanding emotional intelligence during a crisis.

Flops

  1. Grainne Moss and Oranga Tamariki
    For presiding over record rates of Māori babies being removed from their whānau and placed into state care.
  2. WINZ
    Dor its disappointing lack of urgency to reduce the suffering of the most vulnerable New Zealanders
  3. Strike Force Raptor
    Lols.

Toby Manhire

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern
    A truly formidable leader, both in terms of holding a motley government together, and most extraordinarily in her response to national catastrophe. It’s true that most of the global adulation is really a kind of reverse projection: the subtext of the acclaim is Why can’t we have her instead of the bloke we’re lumped with, but it pays to flip it around. Which prominent world leader would you swap her for?
  2. Simon Bridges
    The leader of the opposition showed wells of tenacity by emerging through the flaming baptism called Jami-Lee Ross stronger. He’s been churning out the policy documents and the memes, notwithstanding the slushies. Perhaps most remarkably at all, no one is talking with less than a year to the election about a Judith Collins challenge.
  3. Chlöe Swarbrick
    You shouldn’t really know the name of a first-term MP unless they’ve found themselves at the centre of some degrading scandal, but Swarbrick has had a belter: not so much the “OK, boomer”, thing, though that was good, but in the debate on cannabis legislation there is no one, in or out of politics, who can explain the argument with such cogency and resistance to being dragged into sensationalist cul-de-sacs. Paradoxically, in order not to meld the Greens’ platform with that of the yes vote, she may end up less visible on the issue in 2020 than by rights she should be.

Flops

  1. Phil Twyford
    When self-confidence and urgency tips over into hubris: a case study.
  2. The NZ Labour Party
    Good intentions count for nothing when you can so gravely and indefensibly let down a young volunteer.
  3. Small parties
    The Destiny one and the Green-Blue one and the Conservatives and the rebooted TOP one: all seem doomed to fall well short. It’s a shame; we could use more stripes in parliament. The Māori Party could yet stage a comeback, but otherwise it looks like a lock-out, thanks to a daft, obsolete 5% threshold.

Danyl Mclauchlan

Champs

  1. Simon Bridges
    A dead man walking at the start of the year, seemingly fatally wounded by the Jamie Lee-Ross saga and its fallout. But he’s still standing, somehow, and slowly clawing his way up in the preferred PM polls. The odds of him being prime minister in 12 months time can’t be less than 30%.
  2. Jacinda Ardern 
    An unusual Prime Minister: a global celebrity superstar who is not particularly popular with domestic voters compared to her predecessors, Helen Clark and John Key, at comparable points in the electoral cycle. This deficit probably has little to do with Ardern herself and everything to do with the nature of her government, which is mediocre and dysfunctional on multiple levels. If anyone other than Ardern was leading it, it would be utterly doomed.
  3. James Shaw
    (Provisional; also, disclaimer, this nominee is an old friend)
    Shaw won cross party consensus on the Carbon Zero Bill, which will either turn out to be the single most important and enduring achievement of this government or an utterly meaningless and futile gesture. We probably won’t know which is which for another few terms. So ask me again in 10 years.

Flops

  1. Shane Jones
    There’s this recurring phrase Shane Jones uses to describe himself in the media. Whenever he’s in trouble for breaching the cabinet manual or failing to declare a conflict of interest or being investigated by the auditor general, or whatever, he often explains his actions by describing himself as “a retail politician”. Retail politics is a term of art politicians and political operatives use to describe direct voter contact: doorknocking, going to school galas, doing walk-arounds at malls, kissing babies, posing for selfies. Jones actually does very little of this: he’s more of a business dinner schmoozer. So he doesn’t seem to know what the term he uses to describe himself means, and I don’t think any of his party’s available voters do either: When non-politics nerds hear the term “retail politician” I wonder if they assume that politician is for sale. No actual “retail politician” would ever describe themselves as one, so there’s an impressive triple flop going on there.
  2. Phil Twyford
    There’s an important lesson in Twyford’s highly visible failures across multiple, crucial portfolios. It’s conventional wisdom across much of the left that political problems are easily solved: you simply use the power of the state and throw lots of money at things, and you’re done. Twyford symbolises this new government’s painful lesson that many hard, unsolved problems are unsolved because they’re hard.
  3. Nigel Haworth
    If National botched sexual assault allegations as badly as Labour’s governance body there would still be crowds of protesters dressed in Handmaid’s Tale costumes chanting outside the party HQ, but the Labour Party President’s resignation successfully quarantined the fallout from the scandal.

Shane Te Pou

Champs

  1. Andrew Little
    Whether it’s Treaty negotiations, criminal justice reform or preparation for the referenda next year,  Andrew Little continues to impress with his work ethic and ability to get things done. He is building an impressive policy legacy.
  2. Chris Hipkins
    In a portfolio rife with landmines, the education minister has shown deft footwork, bringing in some difficult but necessary reforms.
  3. NZ First
    The party has finished the year strongly as the debate around moving the port heats up and infrastructure takes centre stage of the coalition’s agenda.

Flops

  1. Phil Twyford
    The Kiwibuild continues to plague the Coalition as its signature policy failure — and his performance on roading isn’t much better.
  2. The National Party
    The oh-so-predictable lurch to the populist right on law and order suggests they’re willing to trade sound, evidence-based policy for a few votes. It could also derail sensible drug law reform.
  3. Iain Lees-Galloway
    Has not impressed as an error-prone immigration minister.

Claire Robinson

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern
    For proving the doubters wrong about whether she could be a mother to an infant and a highly competent leader at the same time.
  2. Simon Bridges
    For quickly coming to grips with what is required of a leader of the opposition and dispelling questions about whether he is the right person to lead National into the next election.
  3. David Seymour
    For showing compassion and tenacity in driving through the euthanasia bill.

Flops

  1. Winston Peters
    Dor wasting voters’ time and resources by sending euthanasia and cannabis reform to referendums. The system of government we have chosen for ourselves is not direct democracy but representative democracy, which means we, the people, vote for representatives who have the responsibility to vote and enact policy initiatives on our behalf, whether the parties have campaigned for it or not.
  2. Trevor Mallard
    The man is charged with stamping out bullying in parliament, yet cannot recognise this in his own behaviour.
  3. Jacinda Ardern
    For not visiting Ihumātao. Her idol Michael Joseph Savage would not have thought twice about visiting, in order to gain as much first-hand knowledge about the situation.

Trish Sherson

Champs

  1. New Zealanders
    For just getting on with making great stuff happen/looking after each other/their whanau/mates/communities/businesses (regardless of what the politicians are squabbling over).
  2. James Shaw
    The proud father of the Carbon Zero Act supported across the house and welcomed by a broad spectrum of business. In the year of delivery, the only minister who managed to have more than hot air to show for hard labour.
  3. David Seymour
    He’s taken his political career off life support with his work on the End of Life Choice Bill. With guaranteed election year profile and coverage around the referendum on the Bill in 2020, he could be the wild card of this election, bringing in a couple of MPs to give National options.

Flops

  1. The year of delivery
    At least know you’ve got a date before you announce you’re having a baby.
  2. Phil Twyford
    (Again.)
  3. Working Groups

Ben Thomas

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern
    The greatest moments of Ardern’s leadership so far are ones she would never have wished for, in the tragic wake of the Christchurch shootings and the Whakaari eruption. She has held together an uneasy coalition and her decisiveness over Auckland’s port has probably bought stability from NZ First heading into election year.
  2. James Shaw
    Shaw has faced critics from within his own party for what disgruntled activists see as his pragmatism, but he steered the Zero Carbon Act through with support from all major parties, a huge achievement that will nonetheless never satisfy those who yearn for Metiria Turei’s return.
  3. David Seymour
    Most party leaders will be happy with how they end 2019. Simon Bridges is still in his job and within a whisker of government on some polls. Winston Peters is beset by erratic colleagues but seems to have secured the enormous legacy of moving the port. However David Seymour alone has doubled or tripled his party’s polling (from an admittedly low base), got further with the vexed issue of assisted dying than any MP before him, and on at least one recent poll is an unlikely Kingmaker in 2020.

Flops

  1. Phil Twyford
    Kiwibuild was a one (compound) word refutation of the “year of delivery”, and no sooner had the Prime Minister stripped Twyford of that responsibility than the mess of Auckland’s light rail project bubbled to the surface. Can turn it around and feature as a winner next year if his urban development authority and funding mechanisms finally get some houses built.
  2. David Clark
    Seemingly unable to translate Labour’s much derided commissions of inquiry and working groups – and the better part of $1.9 billion in the “Wellbeing Budget” – into any meaningful action on mental health.
  3. Chris Hipkins
    Perhaps an unfair inclusion, since he has performed well as education minister and leader of the House. As state services minister however he has allowed the old boys empire building of the state services commissioner to go unchecked, and allowed Peter Hughes to seemingly play favourites and shield failing chief executives like Gabs “hackers did it” Makhlouf.

 


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