Most political action outside parliament
From the asset sales programme revealed in January 2011 to the Labour Party leadership change in December, political events unfolded this year with a certain inevitability.
Having ruled out asset sales during its first term, National was bound to reveal its privatisation agenda this year, in time to win an election mandate in November.
Otherwise, the Key Government sought to maintain the nonthreatening image of ‘‘ compassionate conservatism’’ that has enabled it to occupy the middle of the political spectrum so successfully.
For that reason, the asset sales sell-down was presented not as an ideological commitment to privatisation, but as an opportunity for so-called ‘‘Mum and Dad’’ investors to earn a buck.
Whenever the public did feel spooked – say, by February’s plan to mine national parks – the Government quickly back-pedalled.
Labour’s problems were equally obvious.
Given the low polling by leader Phil Goff, Labour chose not to engage in a presidential- style popularity contest it was always bound to lose.
None of its policy plans – to gradually raise the retirement age, to remove GST from fruit and vegetables and to introduce a comprehensive capital gains tax – ever stood much chance of winning new voters, and were more about motivating its own supporters.
In the end, Labour’s left-wing supporters fled to the Greens and its social conservatives hived off to Winston Peters and his resurgent New Zealand First.
Having used Hone Harawira as its radical credentials to justify its alliance with National, the Maori Party found a pretext in March to cast him out before Harawira could go out on the campaign trail to advocate an alliance with Labour.
At this point, the Maori Party’s future (and that of Harawira’s own Mana Party) appear bleak.
For comic relief, 2011 couldn’t beat the Act Party’s internal ructions, which culminated in a coup by Don Brash, mass retirements from its caucus, a bungled photo opportunity in Epsom and a share of the election vote insufficient to elect Brash to Parliament.
With John Banks at the helm, Act is now little more than a National Party franchise operation.
Come the election, the Key Government won its best share of the vote since 1990, but this has translated into a bare one-vote majority in the House for its core agenda.
Meanwhile, delays over the Christchurch rebuild and uncertainties in the global economy show no sign of being resolved – as reflected in three international rating agencies choosing to downgrade New Zealand’s credit rating, because of lingering concerns about our levels of private debt.
During 2011, most of the year’s extraordinary political events occurred well outside Parliament.
The Christchurch quake, Japan’s quake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, the Arab Spring revolts, the London riots, the deaths of Bin Laden and Gaddafi, the meltdown in Europe, Rupert Murdoch on the ropes . . .
What began as a demonstration against corporate greed on Wall Street quickly led to the tent cities of the Occupy movement mushrooming in 1100 cities around the world, including New Zealand’s major cities. By the end of the year, Occupy’s core issue of income inequality had been put firmly on the mainstream political agenda and will form the backdrop to the Key Government’s second term.
Century-maker: Elsie Carter has been in Whitby Rest Home since ill-health took hold in 2007 but granddaughter Laura Moult and son Richard Carter made sure she was surrounded by family for her big day.