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Some of our 2023 champs and flops (Image: Tina Tiller)
Some of our 2023 champs and flops (Image: Tina Tiller)

OPINIONPoliticsDecember 18, 2023

The champs and flops of NZ politics in 2023

Some of our 2023 champs and flops (Image: Tina Tiller)
Some of our 2023 champs and flops (Image: Tina Tiller)

Our panel pick their overachievers and under-performers from the year in politics.

Another year, another chance to reflect on the winners, losers and massive political flameouts of the past 12 months.

This year has seen a new three-headed coalition emerge, while Labour’s single-party majority faltered. There were frictions in the fringe movement, a surge for a new wave of young politicians, and a series of explosive and high-profile ministerial scandals.

So as we get ready to switch off the news and unplug from social media over summer (well, some of us, anyway), our panel of political savants has meditated deeply on who (or what) impressed, frustrated and surprised them the most during this at-times turbulent election year. 

Madeleine Chapman


  1. Te Pāti Māori: There was a lot of doubt among the media around whether Te Pāti Māori were campaigning effectively, given their relative lack of mainstream media engagement. But turns out if you speak directly to the people whose votes you want, it’s incredibly effective. Winning six of seven Māori electorate seats is huge, and their maiden speeches this month suggest the party will be front and centre of the opposition in 2024.
  2. The name Chris: I personally don’t know what the fuss is about but it’s been a real moment for Chrises of Aotearoa. Luxon is prime minister, Hipkins was prime minister, Bishop is all over the telly and -tmas is next week. I’m confident there’ll be marked decrease in babies named Chris for the next three years at least.
  3. Youth: It’s always nice to see fresh faces in parliament but Tamatha Paul and Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke both winning electorate seats in their 20s is particularly exciting – a sign that the “game” of politics might be about to update its rulebook.


  1. Helen White: Very much in her flop era, White’s refusal to accept that winning a Labour stronghold seat by a mere 18 votes isn’t a success story is perhaps her biggest flop of all. She’s entertaining on camera but I suspect we won’t see much of White for the next three years.
  2. Meka Whaitiri: A dramatic defection pays off only if you stick around long enough to actually be the opposition.
  3. Language and speech: After two terms yelling that Labour was too woke and too concerned with policing language, NZ First, Act and National have come out with a priority list that is a lot about language and who can say what, where. Boring, tedious and predictable.

Madeleine Chapman is the editor of The Spinoff.

Toby Manhire


1. Christopher Luxon

However rocky the first weeks might have been – a vindication, at least, of senior National figures’ warnings about the “three-headed monster” peril – Christopher Luxon’s achievement in returning National to the Beehive just three years after he became an MP in a then dysfunctional party makes 2023 his year.

2. Peters and Seymour

To overcome hulking animus and form a government together just a few days after David Seymour said of Winston Peters, ”We’re not going to sit around the cabinet table with this clown” is remarkable. Turned out all it took was a common cause: extracting massive policy concessions from National. They embraced, presumably, Shane Jones’ doctrine. “When someone wants to take something over and there’s a small but blocking shareholder,” he said after the election, “at the end of the day you have to pay their price.”

3. The Greens and TPM

When the Greens and Te Pāti Māori mapped out their campaign strategies at the start of the year, they could hardly have hoped for better execution. 


1. The Baby-Beet boondoggle

Nothing encapsulated the Labour slide from a historic majority to dismal defeat quite like the marquee economic pledge of removing GST from fresh fruit and vegetables. Expedient, unoriginal, ineffective and desperately convoluted, disliked by the finance spokesperson and leaked by his rival.

2. Nash, Wood and Allan

As if Chris Hipkins’ challenge wasn’t hard enough already, three unforced errors saw senior ministers Stuart Nash, Michael Wood and Kiri Allan removed from cabinet in various grades of disgrace, created a constant stench of disarray and exposed a talent vacuum in election year. 

3. Parliamentary timber

Michael Wood lost Roskill. Michael Woodhouse in effect quit politics in disappointment at his list ranking. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Sarah Pallett lost her seat, too.

Toby Manhire is Spinoff editor-at-large

Mihingarangi Forbes


  1. Te Pāti Māori: For its social media game, mobilising the Māori nation and making rangatahi interested in civics.
  2. Marama Davidson: For challenging tāne Māori in all the debates, particularly men from her own rohe of Te Taitokerau. Watch this space on the Ngāpuhi settlement discussions coming up – I think she is going to run it straight.
  3. Jack Tame and Rebecca Wright: For their tough but thoughtful question lines during the campaign.


  1. Christopher Luxon: For letting Winston back in the fold. He could have had a two-party coalition had he not made the declaration that he could work with NZ First.
  2. Shane Reti: For allowing Aotearoa NZ to backtrack on world-leading smokefree goals.
  3. Tama Potaka: For not speaking up for te reo Māori.

Mihingarangi Forbes is a broadcaster and host of Mata Reports.

Stewart Sowman-Lund


  1. Christopher Luxon: Whatever you make of his politics, like Angela Bassett, he did the thing. Taking a dying National Party from the brink of absolute disaster in 2020 to an election win three years later is genuinely impressive, especially given that his obvious political inexperience occasionally felt like it might derail National’s campaign.
  2. The mood for change: Sure, Luxon was the figurehead, but he probably wouldn’t be sitting pretty on the ninth floor were it not for the amorphous and undefinable “mood for change”. It permeated everything.
  3. Winston Peters: You can’t rule Winston Peters out, but many of us did. Once more the kingmaker rose at the last minute, defying the odds yet again and making it back into parliament with his most prized portfolio (minister of racing). 


  1. Attack ads: First there was Act’s backfiring ad against Winston Peters (see no. 3 above), then a series of grumpy Christopher Luxons plastered up and down the country by the Council of Trade Unions. None of it worked. The personal attacks looked petty, sparking more headlines about the ads themselves than anything remotely related to policy.
  2. Winston Peters: For courting the conspiracy vote to pull off said meteoric return to parliament. He’s definitely a champ, but he’s also a major flop.
  3. Liz Gunn: For, ya know, everything – but specifically for when she said her claim that NZ Loyal would get two million votes on election night was just a joke. Commit to the bit!

Stewart Sowman-Lund is a reporter and former live updates editor for The Spinoff.

David Seymour, Christopher Luxon and Winston Peters arrive for the signing of the coalition agreement (Photo: Marty Melville/AFP via Getty Images)

Shane Te Pou


  1. Christopher Luxon and Te Pāti Māori: First-term MP becomes prime minister. That’s a story in itself. And Te Kohanga Reo Generation is HERE.
  2. Winston Peters: He’s back and wields much more power than his total vote deserves.
  3. The Green Sisters: Auckland Central (Chlöe Swarbrick), Wellington Central (Tamatha Paul), and Rongotai (Julie Anne Genter).


  1. Jacinda Ardern: She should’ve stayed and fought. 
  2. Chris Hipkins: At the time, the bonfire of policies made sense but it was replaced with nothing. Ended up self-combusting.
  3. The Labour ministers who lost their jobs months out from an election: What the hell were they thinking?

Shane Te Pou is a former candidate, campaign manager and executive member of the Labour Party.

Lara Greaves


  1. Christopher Luxon: He actually pulled off becoming prime minister when the odds were stacked against him.
  2. Te Pāti Māori: For winning six out of seven of the Māori electorates, despite the polls and our predictions.
  3. Winston Peters: Although I am not sure what he is champion of… ? Does he know?


  1. The Labour Party: Not just for the loss, but the swing from its historic single-party majority. It is hard to measure the loss comparatively, but it’s up there with some of the major swings in Westminster parliaments, such as the 1997 UK election. However, as consolation, Labour has nothing on the 1993 Canadian federal election where the governing party went from 156 seats to two.
  2. Political scientists, expats, and New Zealanders on holiday: For having to explain to people overseas why Jacinda Ardern isn’t PM over and over again.
  3. Evidence.

Lara Greaves is an associate professor in politics at Victoria University. 

Ben McKay


  1. A shared prize between Chris Luxon and Winston Peters: Luxon won the election and can now send emails in blue comic sans font from the highest office of the land. And while Winston started the year moaning about road cones on his favourite platform, twitter dot com, he ended it as deputy prime minister.
  2. Craig Renney: The CTU economist landed more campaign blows than the Labour Party.
  3. The Greens’ sheilas: Chlöe Swarbrick triples her margin in the blue-nami, while the power trio of Tory Whanau, Julie Anne Genter and Tamatha Paul can legitimately claim to represent the capital.


  1. Jacinda Ardern: By some distance the worst year of her prime ministership: got very little done in 2023.
  2. Meka Whaitiri: Which was more ice cold, her exit from Labour or the subsequent ejection from the electorate?
  3. Michael Wood: Because nobody ignores the cabinet office 16 times and gets away with it. A cautionary tale to all the to-do-list putter-offers out there.

Ben McKay is a press gallery journalist and NZ correspondent for the Australian Associated Press.

The Green Party’s Tamatha Paul won the Wellington Central electorate

Shanti Mathias


  1. The modern day slavery legislation: After years of pushing by advocates, the Labour government finally announced a law for supply chain transparency in August. It’s not much, but it’s something – and it seems to have bipartisan support, meaning it will hopefully endure the wave of repealing the government is eager to perpetuate. It was announced the same week as Kiri Allan’s sudden resignation, and Carmel Sepuloni seemed relieved to be getting to talk about some positive news for a change.  
  2. The Green Party’s electorate MPs: It’s a major achievement for a party to triple the number of electorate seats they hold (or just to get two more, depending on how you phrase it), even if those MPs aren’t in government. 
  3. The 311 families: The IRD tax survey made headlines in April for showing how unfair our country’s tax system is, and ensured that tax was a key election subject. The 311 wealthy individuals and families who participated can be grateful not just that their transparency revealed the depth of inequality in New Zealand, but also that they have their bank balances to comfort them as the cost of living just keeps increasing. 


  1. E-scooters: No one knows how to regulate private e-scooters and even ministers in the new government don’t know the best practice for riding them safely.
  2. Speaking of falling off e-scooters… Chris Bishop: He had a lot of wins this year, like becoming third on National’s list and winning back the Hutt South electorate. But he also claimed that reinstating no-cause evictions would be good for renters without any evidence for it, and took the fall for the government removing the smokefree ban while getting some key facts wrong. A year of highs and lows. 
  3. Raf Manji and TOP: The party made an audacious bid for the Ilam seat and Manji received an impressive 10,000 votes but was easily crushed by National newcomer Hamish Campbell. Last week, Manji resigned as leader. You can’t fault him or the party for a lack of ideas, but TOP is now in a fight to survive the next three years. 

Shanti Mathias is a staff writer for The Spinoff.

Joel MacManus


  1. Christopher Luxon: He has a new job as the prime minister of New Zealand, a great CV-booster.
  2. Chris Hipkins: The Boy From The Hutt™ got to have a go at prime ministering, and he didn’t even have to roll anyone or fight a contested election, because every possible contender fell on their swords or over their own feet. Even better, Chippy has such a cute, polite demeanour that no one even seems particularly mad at him for losing.
  3. The urban Green Party: The Green Party has firmly established itself as the leading party in Aotearoa’s two proper urban centres, central Wellington and central Auckland. New Zealand is a rapidly urbanising country, and the Greens are establishing a stronghold among the growing demographic of people who live in apartments, ride public transport, and don’t want to have to move to the ‘burbs.


  1. Any future Labour leaders: Kiri Allan ran away, Michael Wood lost track of his shares and his seat, and Stuart Nash’s fake tough-guy talk blew up in his face. The shelves of political talent are looking dusty and dry.
  2. Light rail: The space-age concept of trams has officially been deemed too complicated for Wellingtonians and Aucklanders to wrap their puny little minds around.
  3. The Money Free Party: Another devastating election cycle for the only party with the cajones to truly challenge our economic system: the Money Free Party, which aims to replace money with an economy where everything is free and all work is voluntary. The party failed to register because, in a cruel twist of irony, the Electoral Commission requires parties to have at least 500 members, who must pay their fees using money.

Joel MacManus is Wellington editor for The Spinoff.

Chris Hipkins at the Labour Party campaign launch, Aotea Centre, Auckland. Photo: Fiona Goodall/Getty

Andrew Geddis


  1. Christopher Luxon: People may still not properly know his name, but he started as leader of a party at war with itself and now he’s prime minister.
  2. Winston Peters: Rodeo may be a dying thing, but turns out that there was at least one more for him to ride in.
  3. Te Pāti Māori: It may have attracted just over 3% of the party vote, but by winning six out of seven Māori seats it can credibly claim to speak for Generation Tiriti.


  1. Labour: In just three short years went from being a political unicorn to a bit of an ass. 
  2. Brian Tamaki/Leighton Baker/Matt King/Liz Gunn/etc: Watched their “we’re mad as hell and not going to take it” vote succumb to the roguish charms of NZ First. 
  3. Meka Whaitiri: She’d probably have lost her seat anyway, but leaving Labour for Te Pāti Māori denied the latter a clean sweep in the Māori seats.

Andrew Geddis is a law professor at the University of Otago.

Anna Rawhiti-Connell


  1. Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke: An emblem of Te Pāti Māori’s strategic graft in the Māori seats and its longer game, Maipi-Clarke unseated Nanaia Mahuta in Hauraki-Waikato which Mahuta had held since 2002, back when it was Tainui. Maipi-Clarke’s whakapapa suggests she was born for this, but it is still no small feat for a 22-year-old to step into the wood-panelled house and hold her own, all while bearing the expectations of her people and a whole new generation.
  2. Len Salt, mayor of Coromandel: All the mayors of areas impacted by the severe weather events at the start of the year found themselves thrust into the media spotlight. Many remain on call as the need to keep recovery efforts in mind continues. Some have handled it better than others. In the wake of the Coromandel floods, Salt consistently advocated for his community, praised the efforts of others, prioritised safety, and always had the facts at hand.

Honourable mentions: The Newshub leaders debate for bringing MDMA and killer drones to the discourse, former speaker Adrian Rurawhe for being an exceptional speaker of the house, and the Independent Electoral Review panel for championing universal franchise.


  1. Michael Wood: He was reminded 16 times about getting rid of his Auckland Airport shares. Simon Peter only denied Jesus three times. C’mon.
  2. Labour’s strategy in Auckland: Sure, there was resentment residue after the lockdowns, but not clocking the “changed face” of Auckland, where 44% of people will likely identify with an Asian ethnicity by 2043, was a blunder.
  3. Food as metaphor: I never want to hear about bread, butter, Weetbix, beans, carrots or a $60-a-week grocery shop ever again.
  4. Meka Whaitiri: Ditched Labour while Chris Hipkins was on a plane, defected to Te Pāti Māori and was the only Te Pāti Māori candidate not to win her seat.

Anna Rawhiti-Connell is editor of The Bulletin.

Haimona Gray


  1. The Right Honourable Winston Raymond Peters: You can never count out matua Winnie, ever. He’ll go quiet for a few years, lulling his adversaries into a false sense of security, only to rope-a-dope the nation and return to power as punchy as ever. He is The Terminator of NZ politics, a force only molten steel and a large dose of luck can vanquish. Like him or loathe him, this has been the year of politics’ most iconic Aries – a star sign famous for its healthy confidence and pull-no-punches approach.
  2. The National Party’s candidate selection process: Went from selecting scandal-hit candidates and losing previously safe seats to electing so many electorate MPs that highly touted list candidates ended up missing out. Being dubbed a “future prime minister” is still thought of in Wellington as the kiss of death for a political career, but with multiple candidates who could now fit the bill, National has strengthened its present and its future all in one election cycle.
  3. Te Pati Māori: By embracing the combative style of its president John Tamihere, Te Pati Māori has completed its journey from the incremental-improvement style of Dame Tariana to becoming a party of full-contact politics. To anyone familiar with Tamihere’s modus operandi, it’s no surprise that a party he majority funds and presides over, and which is co-led by his son-in-law, is pushing aggressive rhetoric and an insurgency mindset. He’s only getting started.


  1. The Labour Party’s Māori caucus: Māori electorates’ vote of no confidence in Labour – and in the political nous of Willie Jackson, the party’s Māori strategist – was resounding. In the long run this election could be an outlier, or maybe it represents a generational shift from two-ticks Labour that had been building since the 1990s. Only time will tell, but what is clear is that Māori voters do not connect with this Māori caucus and fresh blood is needed.
  2. Raf Manji and The Opportunities Party: After getting more media attention than any other fringe party, largely based on unfounded claims that it had a realistic chance of winning Ilam, Manji came a distant second to National’s Hamish Campbell – in fact ending up closer to third than first. If this isn’t the end of TOP, it certainly should be the end of the media taking their claimed support seriously.
  3. Liz Gunn: It’s a pretty big drop from “one million” expected votes to… 34,000. That being said, NZ Loyal’s election result is still a respectable outcome for a brand-new party plagued by infighting. It’s a flop – gaining only 1% of the party vote can be nothing else – but a minor one compared to the two above.

Haimona Gray is an Auckland-based public relations consultant and contributor to The Spinoff.

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