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.

Talk­ing Pol­i­tics

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