2018 in politics: who were the champs and the flops?

To kick off our review of the year in politics, we asked our experts to pick the best and worst performing individuals (or parties or institutions or whatever).

To come in the next few days: 2018 in a sentence and predictions for 2019.

Alex Braae

Champs

  1. Paul Goldsmith. Constant hits put on the obvious weirdness of how the provincial growth fund has been used to date, and pioneered an aggressive and domineering form of video content.
  2. Richard Harman and Politik. Political analysis that’s worth reading pretty much every morning.
  3. Kris Faafoi. Started the year media-shy and low profile, now he’s a rising powerhouse and making changes that will give seriously protection to vulnerable people (when the rules come into effect at least)

Flops

  1. Transformational politics. People hear that phrase and think things are gonna move a bit quicker, you know? The intentions and direction is clear, but whether the government will ever get there is another question.
  2. Jami-Lee Ross – and in terms of flops, specifically the tapes that he claimed were evidence of corruption. They didn’t sound good, and corruption might be going on, but the tapes didn’t show that.
  3. Punditry based on polling. It’s been an absolutely horrible year, with few public polls, and wild and unprovable speculation being thrown around about both those, and the private polls that get selectively released.

Alex Braae is a Spinoff writer

Madeleine Chapman

Champs

  1. Judith Collins. Despite a few very dumb tweets, Collins has managed to end the year looking like National’s best option for leadership. Incredible.
  2. Chris Finlayson. Great clapback at Bridges during the whole JLR saga and turns out he had a highly respectable career in parliament too. Cool.
  3. Andrew Little. Made everyone forget that he unceremoniously stepped down as leader three months out from a general election by going back to doing what he’s actually good at. Admirable.

Flops

  1. Clare Curran. Hard to perform worse than performing yourself out of a job. Holding your resignation press conference in what looked like a shopping mall walkway is also very funny.
  2. Simon Bridges. I’m trying to think of a good news story from Bridges this year and I can’t.
  3. Jamie Strange. Who are you?

Madeleine Chapman is a Spinoff writer

Linda Clark

Champs

  1. The former summer clerks at Russell McVeagh, plus Zoe Lawton and Olivia Wensley. The bravery and persistence of these women challenged the legal profession. Without them there would not have been a #metoo movement in NZ.
  2. Megan Woods – tough when she needs to be, clear and focused
  3. Tracey Martin – finally allowed to shine in her own right.

(NB I excluded the PM because let’s try to spread the good cheer. By any measure she has confounded her critics – again. Her coalition is stable, she remains dominantly popular at home and she’s shown she’s a quick learner which in politics is the key quality of a survivor.)

Flops

  1. Jamie Lee Ross – sheesh, this really was his annus horribilus.
  2. Clare Curran – she went up, then quickly down. She won’t go up again.
  3. Shane Jones. He talks a big game and now he’s put a target on his own back.

Linda Clark is a lawyer

Simon Day

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern. Her poise and mana on the global stage was almost enough to make me a patriot.
  2. The NZ Drug Foundation. The charity’s ability to lead the conversation about the reform of New Zealand’s drug laws is incredible impressive for such a small team.
  3. Chris Finlayson. He’s achieved a huge amount throughout his career in parliament, and his final “I don’t give a fuck” was sassy as.

Flops

  1. Jacinda Ardern’s government – sometimes it felt like the much of the Labour party had never done this government thing before.
  2. Simon Bridges. His attempt to ride the rise of conservative politics is ugly and regressive.
  3. Jami-Lee Ross. What initially felt like quite an exciting moment in New Zealand politics was ultimately sad and quite gross.

Simon Day is a Spinoff writer

Peter Dunne

Champs

  1. Andrew Little. The safe pair of hands, real prime minister that Labour never had
  2. Jacinda Ardern. Against most predictions has more or less held the unwieldy coalition almost on track
  3. Winston Peters. After the three previous failures in government, has realised there is a virtue in somnambulism

Flops

  1. Clare Curran. Promoted far beyond her worth, and fell at the first hurdle.
  2. Phil Twyford. Many promises, but lacks any substance or ability to deliver.
  3. Iain Lees-Galloway. Learning too slowly ministers have to read their papers

Peter Dunne is a former MP

Emma Espiner

Champs

  1. Tom Sainsbury. He’s not the political analyst we deserve, but he’s the one we need.
  2. Ross Bell and the NZ Drug Foundation. Ross is a damn good hustler and he’s led the charge on the drug law reform debate in a manner which has been inclusive, effective and evidence-based.
  3. Helen Clark. She’s bloody everywhere. Someone give her a job.

Flops

  1. Has to be Russell McVeagh really, doesn’t it? With the caveat that nobody believes that the malignant rot of misogyny is confined to one law firm or to the law specifically, or to corporate work environments. It’s all around us.
  2. The former minister of broadcasting, Clare Curran. This time last year, RNZ’s future was looking golden. Twelve months later, the promised $38 million became a sheepish $15 million including that awkward $6 million contestable fund that nobody really knows what to do with. And all of this on top of leading one of the few Māori women in senior leadership in the NZ media to her (thankfully short-lived) demise.
  3. The Mental Health and Addictions Inquiry Report. It reads like a collection of buzz words from a virtuous person’s Twitter feed. It has little to encourage those of us who work in Māori health that anybody is prepared to truly commit to doing what’s needed beyond restating what we already know. Hand over the keys already.

Emma Espiner is a commentator and soon-to-be doctor

Mihingarangi Forbes

Champs

  1. Community champion, Ricky Houghton who houses everyone and anyone in Kaitaia, who treats his community like his immediate whānau and who runs it all on the smell of an oily rag.
  2. Jacinda Ardern because she’s been able to engage with the next generation of voters
  3. Kelvin Davis minus a couple of interviews, has reduced the prison population by nearly 1,000.

Flops

  1. Housing NZ for the meth testing botch up.
  2. MSD for chasing up vulnerable New Zealanders for debts incurred from emergency housing.
  3. Whoever put Māori Santa, Robert Herewini, in the firing line which saw a vile underbelly of racism directed at him and his whānau.

Mihingarangi Forbes is a journalist

Laila Harre

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern. Look at a picture of your mum looking at you as a new-born, then tell me this job combo is not a huge deal.
  2. The New Zealand Drug Foundation. Years of intelligent debate, important research and public opinion shaping are turning out well-earned victories.
  3. Phil Twyford and Julie Anne Genter. Serious people in the transport portfolio, finally.

Flops

  1. Clare Curran. What a sad waste of the apprenticeship completion ticket.
  2. The ghost of John Key. With the government’s 20,000 working groups only scratching the surface of the legacy issues, and then there’s the state of the National Party
  3. Don Brash trying to hold back the reo wave. Give it up, sir.

Laila Harre is a former MP 

Max Harris

Champs

  1. Campaigners for sensible drug regulation have moved reform of drug laws into the mainstream of political discussion. Ross Bell and his team at the Drug Foundation have built up an evidence base on drug law reform, developed domestic and international partnerships (with figures such as Helen Clark and Shamubeel Eaqub), and done tireless advocacy work. Chloe Swarbrick in Parliament has made this issue a priority. The work was rewarded with the Government announcement in December that it would boost funding for community services and treat synthetic cannabinoids as a health issue.
  2. Longtime advocates for criminal justice reform, such as Kim Workman (whose memoir was published at the end of the year), have succeeded in getting the Government to commit in principle to a shift in Aotearoa New Zealand’s approach to incarceration and criminal justice. Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis deserves credit for reducing the prison population by almost 1000 people over the course of the year – something I thought could not be done given long-term trends and tendencies. Minister of Justice Andrew Little has also been steadfast. Much more work remains to be done, but there are some stirrings towards change in a highly charged policy arena.
  3. Jacinda Ardern: as well as bringing a new human being (Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford) into the world, the Prime Minister has centred empathy and kindness in the national political conversation, while also steering a government that has achieved low levels of unemployment and steady growth. Her media appearances and interviews show a command of policy detail and a sense of humour that has endeared her to the public. There are challenges ahead and the government has made mistakes, but the prime minister has been an extremely strong performer, who takes the government into 2019 in a strong position.

Special mention should go to organisers of some one-off actions that had an outsized impact: including the protest of Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern’s speaking trip to New Zealand, and the decision by the Auckland Pride Board (eventually upheld) to require that police only march in Auckland Pride in uniform, which resulted in a community funding drive (spearheaded by the excellent Laura O’Connell Rapira, Director of ActionStation). It’s easy to forget activism and campaigners in reviews of politics. Many of the people involved with these actions (such as those involved with People Against Prisons Aotearoa) also stood staunchly against rhetoric displaying hostility towards trans people, which was on the rise by the end of the year.

Flops

  1. The National Party. Members of the political class might point to National’s steady polling at the year’s end, but the Party’s public image was undoubtedly damaged by its handling of the Jami-Lee Ross saga. That saga revealed distrust and suspicion in the Party, and some disquiet about Simon Bridges’ leadership, but it also revealed a failure to take seriously enough sexual harassment and bullying (a cultural problem that no doubt exists more broadly within New Zealand political and corporate culture).
  2. Clayton Mitchell. It feels harsh to single out one MP, but the New Zealand First MP managed a fair few missteps this year. His ‘Respecting New Zealand Values’ campaign, launched at the New Zealand First conference with a push for an accompanying bill, would require migrants to be expelled if they did not align with New Zealand values. It was dog-whistle politics at its worst, tapping into rising xenophobia internationally. Mitchell did not do himself any favours by also repeatedly calling National Party MP Paul Goldsmith ‘Goldstein’ in a parliamentary debate towards the end of the year, comments that could reasonably be regarded as anti-Semitic.
  3. The Taxpayers Union had a series of gaffes that did not do much to boost their slender legitimacy. It was discovered in October that they used false identities to make official information requests, and in November the Taxpayers Union’s Jordan Williams launched a wildly misguided attack on the practice of giving koha at marae. The so-called Union remains evasive when asked about its funding, and it did nothing to advance its cause this year.

Max Harris is a writer and student

Bronwyn Hayward

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern. Faced down what was at times a cynical taciturn media and the wedge tactics of the Opposition which were designed to try and create distance between the two supporting parties; with charm, she put us on the world stage and made many New Zealanders feel proud
  2. Andrew Little. Hard working careful justice reform is creating a sense of progress – the statistics and results will be the test
  3. Crown Māori Relations Minister Kelvin Davis for his work is below the beltway of gallery commentary- he is often criticised for his parliamentary performance but outside the Wellington bubble, he has been everywhere –visiting marae, listening rebuilding trust – it is a frustration to me that this work is barely reported or understood so it’s very hard to judge its long term impact yet

Flops

  1. I would have to say the previous three National governments – I was a fan of Bill English but I have been shocked to learn more about what has happened under nine years of “light touch” governance, things like the growth of slavery in New Zealand- let me repeat that, slavery (in New Zealand’s horticulture industry); the use of surveillance – let me repeat that too, the use of surveillance against citizens who through no fault of their own were suffering after the earthquakes here in Canterbury and  the close ties between oil and gas and Crown Minerals policy development revealed in this week’s investigation into  MBIE’s relationship with the Security company Thompson and Clark; I have been deeply concerned by the lax approach we have had to rising greenhouse gases, polluted rivers and inequality but this year I have been stunned at many revelations from simple things like the repeated failures of Warrant of Fitness testing to be actioned  to the complex allegations of foreign interference in New Zealand politics which my colleague Prof Anne Marie Brady has raised.
  2. We are all responsible that we let the above happen, that we were distracted by the daily sound and fury of the gallery, and did not fund or follow these policy implementation issues carefully enough– let’s not do this again, let’s stop treating politics as a spectator sport we comment on, and start becoming engaged citizens –including finding ways to fund public media so more journalists have time to follow policy issues in depth beyond sound bites and conflict framing.
  3. We in universities have not done enough to engage in problem solving – too often we are chasing short term funding contracts and journal metric rankings – we need to be focused on future problems and challenges facing any government or society and go further, collaborating across our institutions and disciplines tackle the problems and opportunities we don’t understand.

Bronwyn Hayward is an academic

Liam Hehir

Champs

  1. Shane Jones. The power of government largely extends from its control of spending. Through unprecedented control of the provincial growth fund, he has, for somebody in his position, amassed unprecedented personal political power. Never has so much official advice been ignored.
  2. Sir Michael Cullen. In a government defined by working groups, Cullen finds himself at the helm of the most consequential one. A decade after losing control of the Treasury, he is at the centre of the debate that will probably define the 2020 election.
  3. Christopher Finlayson QC. One of the best members of parliament completes his tenure in the public square with rare aplomb and the respect of ideological friend and foe alike. A stark contrast to other careers that have been ended over the past year (and years gone by).

Flops

  1. Shane Jones. What’s happened is all very satisfying for Shane Jones. It is a path that leads nowhere good for New Zealand, however. And probably not for NZ First when all is said and done.
  2. Trevor Mallard. Clearly wants to be a good speaker but also appears to struggle to contain his pugilistic instincts.
  3. The National Party leaker. It seems inarguable that there has been some attempt at destabilisation within the opposition. By the measures that count, the leaker has missed their mark, with the final public opinion poll of the year showing National just a percentage or two off recapturing government. This is itself extraordinary for a first-term opposition party almost two years out from the next election.

Liam Hehir is a commentator

Stephen Jacobi

Champs

  1. The team at the Auckland City Mission – never despairing, doing the mahi, helping people one at a time, making a difference.
  2. Jacinda Ardern – kept the ship afloat when at times the water was rising faster than the bailers could work.
  3. NZ’s talented trade negotiators – when the world is falling apart they just keep going.

Flops

  1. Clayton Mitchell – the MP is an embarrassment to the nation with the Respecting NZ Values Bill
  2. Industrial relations – everyone is on strike!
  3. The anti-globalisation movement which said TPP was dead – 30 December 2018 is the day they will definitively be proved wrong.

Stephen Jacobi is a trade advocate

Wayne Mapp

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern, much more assured.
  2. National Party, keeps on trucking.
  3. Winston Peters, the wily survivor.

Flops

  1. Jami-Lee Ross, obvious.
  2. Clare Curran, obvious.
  3. Phil Twyford, blather mouth.

Wayne Mapp is a former MP

Trish Sherson

Champs

  1. Maureen Pugh – list place secured. Tick.
  2. Shane Jones. It’s been a tip-top year for Matua– clearest view of his political kaupapa, constituents and knowing how to play to them.
  3. James Shaw and Todd Muller, for working quietly behind the scenes to build bipartisan consensus on NZ’s climate change policy.

Flops

  1. “Kiwibuild”, starring Phil Twyford as the little pig who built his house of straw and feat. Judith Collins as the Big, Bad Wolf.
  2. Fonterra – dairy turning to custard.
  3. Everything that Clare Curran touched.

Trish Sherson is a PR adviser

Tainui Stephens

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern for taking her whānau to the UN and for holding her own easily with Stephen Colbert. Utterly inconsequential things yet which speak to me of her character.
  2. Andrew Little is another chap with character – and he’ll need it up North with my Ngāpuhi rellies.
  3. Winston Peters. In the evening of his years he’s parlayed his vast experience to comport himself well on the NZ and world stage. Bloody good on him.

Flops

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  1. Simon Bridges never had it. He couldn’t see it. We don’t need it.
  2. Sorry Maggie Barry, I don’t like bullies.
  3. Yeah well aroha mai e Shane Jones, but that tree thing was a tad unfortunate.

Tainui Stephens is a film-maker

Simon Wilson

Champs

  1. Grant Robertson. Did what he said he would; especially, he introduced the framework for a Wellbeing Budget that could, in time, change the world.
  2. Chlöe Swarbrick. Kept herself remarkably immune from the trolls whose life’s work is to destroy progressive women in public life, and ended the year with significant progress on cannabis reform, despite a notable lack of support from health minister David Clark.
  3. Jacinda Ardern. She leads the first coalition government we’ve had under MMP that seriously wants to change things, with fractious parties to the right and left, and one year in she’s doing just fine.

Flops

  1. David Clark. The big issues in health are not the lack of maintenance at Middlemore, etc, serious as that is. Clark should be focused on improving mental health care, improving primary health care to those most in need, and rethinking health services delivery for the 21st century. He seems disengaged with all of it.
  2. Simon Bridges. What actually does he want to do if he ever gets to be prime minister?
  3. Jami-Lee Ross. Well that didn’t quite work, did it? Mind you, now that he’s gone, could we get some public retraction of the appalling transport policies he used to promote?

Simon Wilson is a Herald senior writer


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