Reviews of the 2012 year in New Zealand politics have been abundant in the last few weeks. Bloggers, columnists and political journalists have all been summing up the year and issuing their awards. What's particularly notable about the array of reviews from across the political spectrum and different parts of the media is that they all paint a picture of a very eventful year and they share a surprising level of consensus about the winners and losers. The following is a roundup of the various reviews, pointing out some of the more important and interesting observations.
For the Government Tony Ryall gets high marks from John Armstrong, the Fairfax parliamentary reporters, Trans Tasman, and Matt McCarten for not only doing his job effectively in the health portfolio, but for 'keeping it off the front page'. Armstrong puts this best in his comprehensive and insightful review, Gloom sets scene for tumultuous 2013. Armstrong also says that Paula Bennett 'deserves a mention' despite getting plenty of headlines. And blogger Joshua Hitchcock selects her as the 'Maori Politician of the year' - see: The 2012 Maori Law and Politics Winners and Losers List.
Another headline grabbing Minister impressed many, including Patrick Gower - see: Politician of the Year: Judith 'Crusher' Collins. Matt McCarten says that her Maggie Thatcher-like persona is lapped up by the National's hard right, and she's 'Probably National's scary next leader' - see: Best politicians hand out sharp lessons and wit. The Thatcher comparison is taken even further in Fran O'Sullivan's Collins THE force to be reckoned with, especially her willingness 'to make hard calls'. But Colin James' pick for the year has a lower profile and seemingly more actual influence: 'Only four years an MP, Steven Joyce is the cabinet's operator, across swathes of politics and policy' - see: Forgetting, fumbling and forging ahead.
The worst performing Minister is a no-brainer - the one true consensus view for the year. Hekia Parata was one of Sean Plunket's Twelve epic failures of 2012. Parata's failings were obvious for all to see, but Audrey Young has a good article looking at why the Education Minister seems so ill-equipped to handle the demanding portfolio, pointing out that she 'was never an opposition education spokeswoman, and has never spent a day in opposition'. Despite Parata's woeful year Young thinks the Prime Minister will be unwilling to demote her at the moment - see: Leap-frog minister in a class of her own.
As for the Prime Minister, there is agreement that he had a tough year, but the final judgment depends on whether you think the tough times will continue through to 2014. The final Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll of 2012 saw 40% of voters say their opinion of John Key had worsened over the past year, compared with just over 2% who said their opinion had got better - see Tracy Watkin's Parties buoyant despite tough year. Many, like PR professional Mark Blackham don't see it getting any easier: 'The negative frame will NOT go away. National now needs to work over the next two years with an expectation of a diminishing level of public support' - see: Political slate / Year ended 2012. That maybe true but the hard reality for the Opposition is, as Gordon Campbell wrote, 'More than anything, 2012 has shown the power of brand loyalty in politics, over and above the chatter and clatter of the weekly news cycle. After a year in which so much seemed to happen, the major political parties ended 2012 largely as they began it' - see: Political stalemate in 2012. Campbell also encapsulates the tone of most reviews of the political year, when he concludes that 'few around Parliament will be sorry to see the back of 2012'.
That Key had a terrible year is agreed by all, yet this hasn't stopped a number of reviewers declaring him 'Politician of the year' - most convincingly Toby Manhire in There's more to PM Key than meets the eye. And for a different explanation of Key's enduring popularity, see Chris Trotter's Has 'Jack' fallen down halfway up that hill?, or Danyl Mcloughlan's irreverent Love Song of J Key Prime Minister.
The failure to turn negative headlines into significant poll gains inevitably turns the spotlight onto the Opposition. The Greens' Russel Norman scores highly in most reviews - although he is generally marked down for the quantitative easing policy foray - even winning the Kiwiblog readers' poll for best MP overall. This was quite unusual, notes David Farrar, 'as many KB readers are not natural Green Party fans, that is a significant achievement. I'm sure Russell will include the award in his CV, and frame it to place on his office wall' - see: 2012 Kiwiblog Awards.
Labour's Finance spokesperson David Parker generally rates well in the end of year reviews. But the Labour MP who seems to have impressed most is yet another David - Dr Clark of Dunedin North who, according to John Armstrong 'simply has all the goods required to make it to the highest levels. Is he Labour's version of John Key?'. Clark's somewhat lucky first year is reviewed in Mike Houlahan's It's been a big year for...
Not rating well are Nania Mahuta, seen as simply MIA on education, and Jacinda Adern who largely failed to land any telling blows on her opposite number, although the Fairfax parliamentary team thinks she is 'starting to get under Paula Bennett's skin' - see: Politicians given 2012 report cards. This is perhaps reflected by Bennett's 'Zip it sweetie' advice, a phrase that won Massey University's 2012 Quote of the Year competition - see: Top quote for 2012. The Public Address blogsite also ran a poll to find the 'Word of the Year' - eventually settling on Brainfade, but with some notable contenders: Planet Key, 100% Pure, omnishambles, and batshit. And The Standard make the case for the Quote of the Year: "Planet Key".
Matt McCarten rates Shane Jones for his new found freedom of expression. As he notes, however, Jones need to survive the Bill Liu investigation - so it's probably a freedom borne of 'nothing left to lose'. David Cunliffe has clearly had better years, although opinion differs as to whether the Labour Party conference fallout was a stitch-up (see Martyn Bradbury's Political Review 2012 & 2013 Predictions; ) or just plain incompetence (see Matt McCarten's The MPs who could and should have done better).
The Labour leader ended the year on the up with opinion polls finally showing some upward mobility and the press gallery praising his decisive action to deal with the challenge from David Cunliffe (a manufactured crisis that the press gallery helped to create, according to some Labour activists). While Shearer may have fended off an internal challenge, a new round of angst is only a couple of bad poll results away. Mark Blackham's prediction of a tougher year ahead for National is not related to the main Opposition party's performance: 'There's nothing positive to say about Labour from 2012. Self-obsession and overly-nuanced ideological disputes have again made the Party its own worst enemy. The Greens have out-performed Labour simply because its members and MPs have a simple prescription; they know what they want'.
Speculation on Winston Peters' coalition choices continues, and will probably keep going until after the next election - see Tim Watkin's The art of not predicting politics. As with David Shearer, Peters receives much praise for his 'decisive' handling of Brendan Horan. It seems 'strong leadership' is more important around Parliament than wimpy concerns about natural justice. Look forward to the trains always running on time under a NZ First/Labour government.
Impending extinction was the main metaphor used in regard to John Banks and Act, and a replacement libertarian party is being speculated on. The best prognosis for Peter Dunne is that he might be able to hang on to his seat past 2014. The same can't be said for the Maori Party. While Tariana Turia got some credit for pushing through with Whanua Ora, the party's failure to manage leadership succession was seen as a self-inflicted blow the party can do without. That Turia publically called for Pita Sharples to stand down as co-leader when she announced her own retirement doesn't bode well for a smoothly managed transition - see Claire Trevett's Turia: Sharples' time is up.
Finally, for a more visual summary of the 2012 year in politics, Patrick Gower has put together a very good nine-minute montage of what happened - see: The greatest political hits of 2012.
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