National survives 2013 unscathed
In the second year of its second term, any administration will be showing signs of wear and tear, so the Key government will be happy enough to finish 2013 a bit wounded, but in far from terminal condition.
The resilience of National’s poll standings – and of Prime Minister John Key’s popularity – probably surprises even the party leadership.
The Government began the year by unveiling its flagship asset sales programme, which was supposed to inspire ordinary investors to flock to buy shares and raise from $5 billion to $7 billion in the process, thereby boosting the sharemarket.
It didn’t happen. The ‘‘Mum and Dad’’ investors stayed home, the process undershot even the lowest returns predicted, shares in the state energy companies concerned actually did worse than the sharemarket average, and – finally – voters body-slammed the entire process in a referendum.
Curiously, little blame for this debacle seemed to be levelled at the politicians responsible. Such has been the story of 2013. The Government remains reasonably popular, while its pet policies continue to tank.
For connoisseurs of political train wrecks, 2013 offered several classic moments.
For 15 minutes or so, National backbencher Aaron Gilmore became the most well known (and reviled) politician in the land, before resigning in disgrace.
Similarly, David Shearer is probably destined to join Gilmore as a question in a future edition of Trivial Pursuit – who was that guy who became Labour leader after the 2011 election, but got replaced before the next one?
The Greens have reason to regret Shearer’s departure, because the advent of David Cunliffe ended a dream run for Greens co-leader Russel Norman as the de facto leader of the Opposition.
In a ‘‘ so far so good’’ performance, Cunliffe has restored Labour as a credible political force, but without setting the electorate on fire.
For some, 2013 was an annus horribilis.
United Future leader Peter Dunne resigned from Cabinet in the wake of some silly, silly mistakes over the leaking of the Kitteridge report into the GCSB.
By year’s end, Dunne was claiming to have been exonerated by a subsequent inquiry. Few people agreed.
Like some dusty comet, United Future went from being a barely detectable presence to vanishing altogether in midyear – only to reemerge on the far side of the political solar system at year’s end, solitary and remote.
The Maori Party also slipped from political relevance this year, with its founders (Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia) set for retirement.
As a perks machine though, the Maori Party still served a purpose.
Sharples got to attend the Nelson Mandela memorial service, which he complained was too long, while someone waggishly invited a supermodel to sit on Sharples’ knee.
It will be all uphill from here for new Maori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell.
Ultimately, everything leads back to Key, and to his enduring run of popularity.
Key’s gaffes about Kim Dotcom or over appointing his chum to head the GCSB caused no discernible impact, and neither did his underperforming ministers, such as Hekia Parata and Nick Smith, who survived a scandal concerning the Department of Conservation’s amended submission on the Ruataniwha dam.
Christchurch, meanwhile, simmered with anger over the stilltardy responses to the earthquake.
During 2013, trouble came in many shapes for the Government, but Key bobbed along above the waves, apparently unsinkable, for now at least.