Our panel pick their overachievers and under-performers from the year in politics.
How would we know it was the week before Christmas without a deluge of recap lists inviting us all to remember the highs, lows and everything in between from the year that’s been?
This year in politics has brought us a fiery protest outside parliament, a pair of turbulent byelections, a cost of living crisis, a surge in the polls for the National Party, local elections – and a lot more. In celebration, and for the seventh year in a row, The Spinoff presents its annual champs and flops of New Zealand politics.
Shane Te Pou
- Jacinda Ardern: Think about it. What other government has had it as tough as this government? Effects of a global pandemic and international economic turbulence which has led to a cost of living crisis. Even taking into consideration the latest poll she has a fair chance of winning a third term.
- Nicola Willis: Here’s my bold prediction: Willis will lead National before the next election. She’s smart, articulate and, unlike her leader, always comes prepared.
- David Seymour: He’s captured the centre-right vote and is holding solid ground at 10%. One also has to give him credit, Act is not a one man band. His caucus is very effective.
Honourable mentions: Tory Whanau winning the Wellington mayoralty and Wayne Brown of Mangonui winning Auckland’s mayoralty.
- National: It should be better. Luxon is not believable nor is he particularly likeable.
- Labour (in Auckland): Fa’anānā Efeso Collins got a shellacking.
- Labour (overall): Bad week after bad week. As a supporter, I’m not sure what the circuit breaker is. This government is looking like it has run its course.
Shane Te Pou is a former candidate, campaign manager and executive member of the Labour Party.
- Crises: Not long ago the government was straining to avoid calling cost of living a crisis, now they’re first in the queue at the crisis stand, while insisting that crisis came aboard an offshore wind.
- Kiri Allan, Erica Stanford and Chlöe Swarbrick: The first-time candidates who wrote campaign diaries for The Spinoff in 2017 are today three of the brightest, most productive and principled MPs we have. They’re at once a reminder of how lucky we are in New Zealand, and – in light of the abuse each of them faces on a near daily basis – how poisonous politics can be.
- The Black Ferns: It takes an exceptional champion-ness to break into a list of champs for which you don’t qualify, but the Black Ferns were transcendent in 2022 so here they are (and kudos to the politicians who made the tournament happen in NZ). Transformational.
- The Labour message machine: For a government accoladed, rightly, for world leading communications in the pandemic response, this year has been a bit of a pig. On a host of issues, but three waters above everything, the narrative has been not so much lost as incinerated.
- Incumbency: Local elections, local issues. But if there was one theme that pervaded the contests, it was down with the ways things are going.
- King Charles III: Good luck to him, but all that business with the pens was a warning. When we’ve had a good lie down, let’s ditch our random British family head of state.
Toby Manhire is The Spinoff’s editor-at-large and one third of politics podcast Gone by Lunchtime.
- The Covid-19 virus: Restrictions went from 100 to zero quite fast, surely there was a mid-ground?
- Sue Grey and Voices for Freedom: Even after restrictions have been lifted, they are still somehow grabbing disproportionate attention – mainstream docos on disinformation, hand-wringing about social division, the Tauranga byelection, the recent blood court case and so on.
- Nicola Willis and Erica Stanford
- Gaurav Sharma, Labour, and the Hamilton West by-election: Very few people want a byelection for Christmas
- Sam Uffindell
- David Clark’s Data and the Statistics Act 2022: Niche (here’s an explainer).
Lara Greaves is a lecturer in New Zealand politics and public policy at the University of Auckland and associate director (policy inc) at the Public Policy Institute.
- The banking sector: The most profitable businesses in New Zealand have made even more money than usual after the Reserve Bank loaned them money at zero cost. Although the prime minister has warned that she’s very disappointed in them, which doubtless turned those billions of dollars profit into ashes.
- The big consultancies and comms agencies: KPMG and EY are literally constructing buildings in the parliamentary precinct. The metaphor for the partial privatisation of the core public service over the last five years couldn’t be stronger, and this has been their best year yet. Hundreds of millions to restructure the health, education, media and water infrastructure and sell these projects to the public. And haven’t they done themselves proud?
- Wellington’s rapidly swelling army of lobbyists, government relations advisors and public policy partners: Almost exclusively former public servants and parliamentary staffers, who facilitated these historic transfers of wealth to the private sector and got to clip the ticket.
Honourable mention: The National and Act Parties. They’ll probably be governing the country by this time next year. I’m not sure they look like a government in waiting, but the last year has seen both of them transform into a highly effective opposition.
- Adrian Orr: I suppose everyone will say this. But it’s not his fault Russia invaded Ukraine (at least, not that we know of) and he might come out of all this looking rather good, if he can scare the country into a shallow recession that reduces inflation then recovers quickly.
- Andrew Little, along with the components of the health service that actually deliver healthcare and anyone that might need an emergency department, GP or hospital in the next few years: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a minister so bitterly at war with their own sector.
- The bulk of the public service: They’ve been on a pay freeze for the last two years during a cost-of-living crisis. Many of them are now striking, or simply leaving the service. Justice and immigration seem to have been the worst affected. I’m sure they weren’t doing anything important.
Danyl Mclauchlan is a Wellington-based writer.
Brooke Stanley Pao
- Everyone doing the work in pushing for the role and responsibilities of the state to change through constitutional transformation / Matike Mai.
- Land and sea protectors, here and worldwide.
- Wheke Fortress & all the wonderful kaupapa it provides a fale for.
Honourable mentions: Ricardo Menendez March and Debbie Ngārewa Packer.
- Work and Income: ‘Cause been waiting on a “high trust model” for all.
- Christopher Luxon: No explanation needed here.
- Act: They’re always flops.
Brooke Stanley Pao is the co-ordinator for Auckland Action Against Poverty.
- David Seymour: Hate him or only mildly dislike him, he helms the most disciplined team in the house and looks to have established the Act Party as a major-minor component of the next government.
- The academic ivory tower: We just saved The Constitution. Apparently. And, you’re welcome.
- The NZ Supreme Court: Finally prepared to stare down the “judicial activist” canard and upset the Ben Thomases of this world. Legends.
- Governing in the post-Covid era: Everything is so hard and everyone is so exhausted.
- The February parliamentary protests: Sure, #notallprotestors… but when you tolerate the Nazi-adjacent amongst you, you’re Nazi-adjacent-adjacent.
- Wayne Brown: “Move Fast And Break Things” isn’t a proper philosophy for governing New Zealand’s biggest and most important (sorry, Wellington) city.
Andrew Geddis is a law professor at the University of Otago.
- David Seymour: The default opposition leader for much of 2022. While Luxon is gaining confidence, Seymour and his surprisingly well-behaved caucus have been working the media – and therefore the public – relentlessly over 2022.
- Kiri Allan: Move over Wayne Brown because Allan has worked very hard to take up the title of “fixer” in 2022, closing loopholes relating to political donations, dealing with the drama of hate speech legislation, tackling crime and wielding the biggest stack of bills in government.
- Erica Stanford: Outstanding work with the immigration portfolio, making her one of National’s most valuable players going into what will be a tough election campaign. While some have predicted Nicola Willis as a future leader, I reckon Stanford will have a shot if she hangs around parliament long enough.
- Willie Jackson: As the man in charge of the TVNZ-RNZ merger, he was the absolute worst salesperson for an already unpopular policy.
- Gaurav Sharma: Remember him? Me neither.
- Winston Peters: He flirted with the disinformation crowd, dog-whistled on race issues and yet has still ended up with 4% in the latest TVNZ poll.
Stewart Sowman-Lund is live updates editor at The Spinoff.
- Erica Stanford: Tireless and effective work on immigration.
- The humble Copperfields lolly cup: Sustaining press gallery journalists and MPs since before time began. Does not discriminate on party politics or profession, picks you up when you’re down and sustains momentum when you’re on.
- Trevor Mallard: I may well be the only person in the country who thought Barry Manilow, Baby Shark and sprinklers were hilarious. Sorry. But lol.
Honourable mention: Georgie Dansey, a delight on the Hamilton West campaign despite landing an almighty hospital pass from Labour.
- Andrew Little and Michael Wood: For not putting their two significantly bright but pigheaded minds together to fix the nursing crisis – even failing to recognise that it is a crisis.
- Gaurav Sharma: The poor man’s Jami-Lee Ross. Please stop now.
- Jami-Lee Ross: The actual Jami-Lee Ross. Taking credit for leaking Simon Bridges’ expenses to get off fraud charges. Closing the chapter on a four year long political cluster f@$#. Please stop now.
Tova O’Brien is a former Newshub political editor and current host at Today FM.
- Christopher Luxon: Perhaps a controversial choice because he did not put in a flawless year. Then again, he is a pretty inexperienced politician. Nevertheless by basically ignoring all attempts to put him on the back foot he has ended 2022 in pole position to be prime minister this time next Christmas.
- David Seymour: For maintaining relatively high levels of public support. As the nation prepares to change government it’s usually the smaller opposition parties that feel the squeeze. So,show Seymour has defied that. At least so far.
- Winston Peters: Has been so unencumbered by shame in his hyperbolic attacks on the very government he installed. Not everyone could pull it off but it looks like he just might be a force again. Hats off to him for that, I guess.
- Adrian Orr: As Reserve Bank governor, he is charged with maintaining price stability. As prices surged he talked mostly about other things only peripherally connected to his actual mandate. Ended the year having to engineer a recession to salvage the bank’s reputation as a credible inflation fighting institution.
- Grant Robertson: Lost control of the economic narrative. Despite being pretty capable and still a real asset for the government, the minister of finance simply has no credible message to sell on the cost of living crisis. The country was not grateful the modest, one-off cost of living payments announced in the budget that did little to improve people’s lives while adding to inflationary pressures.
- Efeso Collins: Blew a deserved front runner status and a monopoly on the left side of the spectrum to somehow lose the Auckland mayoralty to a pretty unpolished Wayne Brown. In an environment where the left actually did pretty well in Auckland, his decisive defeat has to be at least partly attributed to a lacklustre campaign strategy and implementation.
Liam Hehir is a lawyer and writer from Manawatū.
- The unions: Big resurgence this year, aided by confluence of perfect conditions. Literally lived their values by being organised and ready to strike when conditions were right and have grown profile and numbers. Reminded a whole new generation that there is strength in numbers.
- Jan Tinetti: Juggled the sprawling and oddly assorted portfolio of Internal Affairs, picked up half of the education portfolio and seems to have been instrumental in sorting out the firefighters.
- The official cash rate: A stellar year of growth, binders full of publicity and a smash hit to see out the year
- Voter turnout: Everyone is tired and can’t find a post box, can’t find out how a councillor voted for three years or MMP and centralisation have rinsed the local electorate MP and local councillor of relevance. Who knows but turnout was burned out this year.
- Te Pūkenga: Might be smoother sailing with a new CEO appointed but when the advertising of new roles on Seek becomes yet more ammunition for a very good tertiary education opposition spokesperson and yet another news story about salaries, spending, deficits and organisational problems, you’ve become the merger from hell for a minister.
- People who keep asking the prime minister to DJ
Anna Rawhiti-Connell is The Spinoff’s Bulletin editor.
- Nanaia Mahuta: A counterintuitive champ. Has passed the most significant and contentious of the government’s ambitious reform agenda, addressing the catastrophe-waiting-to-happen of New Zealand’s water infrastructure, against tremendous external political pressure and internal inertia. Note that the prize for coming first is not necessarily re-election or even keeping the local government portfolio in Jacinda Ardern’s signalled reshuffle.
- Erica Stanford: If you want to know for certain what the government’s immigration policy will be in three to six months time, just check what National spokesperson Erica Stanford is calling for now.
- Christopher Luxon: Brought National from basket-case to favourite for 2023 within one year of his leadership and barely two years in parliament. Selections in the Hamilton West byelection show he is starting to successfully put his stamp on the party outside caucus as well.
- Jacinda Ardern: As I’ve noted when acknowledging Ardern a previous champ numerous times, you can’t argue with results. Labour has lost around a third of its support since 2020 and looks directionless. This doesn’t change the fact the prime minister remains her party’s best chance for re-election, and there will be huge expectations for her one-on-one with Luxon on the campaign trail.
- Willie Jackson: Crucial to Labour’s re-chances of forming a government post-election as the Key Master to Te Pāti Māori president John Tamihere’s Gatekeeper, and nothing but a headache until then. Inflammatory on vague policies like the RNZ-TVNZ merger and even non-existent policies like “co-governance”, the minister of Māori development and broadcasting has been a chaotic force in cabinet this year.
- Gaurav Sharma: A number of backbenchers who should have remained anonymous for their entire careers brought disrepute on themselves this year, but none so thoroughly self-documented as Sharma’s high wordcount tailspin.
Ben Thomas is a public relations consultant, former National government press secretary and one-third of The Spinoff’s politics podcast, Gone by Lunchtime.