Key rules the roost
Polls can be boring, but they do convey an essential truth about the politics of 2015. National began the year with a commanding lead over the combined level of Labour-Green support. At year’s end, that gap still remains.
The last two Roy Morgan polls for the year have shown National sitting contentedly on 49 per cent, while the Labour/Green vote is only 41.5 per cent. Everything else that happened during 2015 barely rippled the pond of an electorate that – plainly – feels reasonably satisfied for now with the government it has got.
One year into its third term, National’s happy condition is due to two factors : the unshakeable popularity of Prime Minister John Key, and the inability of the Opposition to offer a compelling alternative, either at the personal or the policy level.
Certainly, Key had low points – the ponytail incident, the flag debate no-one wanted, the Christmas Island detainee humiliation (and its related ‘‘Labour support rapists and murderers’’ slur) might have sunk lesser figures.
Yet being unable – or worse, unwilling – to defend New Zealanders suffering unjustly at the hands of an arrogant Australian government somehow didn’t rebound on Key, not at all.
Hanging around the All Blacks like a fanboy didn’t lose him any brownie points either, at least not with those voters who feel similarly in awe of Richie McCaw. There were genuine setbacks. Losing Northland to Winston Peters was a serious defeat, and it has weakened National’s ability to push its policies through Parliament.
Talking of policy, the longpromised package to reform the Resource Management Act proved to be such a fizzer that its release was buried in late November, without much media or parliamentary attention.
An economy in decline and plunging dairy prices in 2015 didn’t seem to hurt the government, either – consumer confidence is apparently booming.
Through sheer good luck, the government has been insulated against any major backlash from the declining dollar: since oil prices also collapsed in 2015, the price of imported petrol has stayed much the same.
If Key had a good year, so did Andrew Little.
During 2015, Little steered Labour back to its socio-economic roots and away from any social policies that might seem elitist, or from any economic policies (such as an expanded capital gains tax) that might attract criticism.
In the process, his limitations as a media performer and fount of new policy have been exposed.
Keeping Annette King on as deputy leader – and the related inability (or reluctance) to promote Jacinda Ardern have only served to underline the tactical timidity in Labour.
Little may have earned respect during 2015, but not much public affection. He’s a credible alternative for an electorate not currently looking for one.
While Act remains a whollyowned National Party franchise, David Seymour performed ably at the front-of-house, and Winston Peters won Northland for New Zealand First.
Under new co-leader James Shaw, the Greens survived the departure of Russel Norman without any visible effect.
Judith Collins was returned to the Cabinet fold, although she’s now some crucial distance behind Paula Bennett as leader-inwaiting.
Everyone had a reasonably good year, but Key has the most reason to smile as he sits down to Christmas dinner.