At year's end political scribblers have a habit of reviewing the year about to end and nominating a politician of the year.

This year I can't resist the temptation to do both.

There were both political and real earthquakes throughout 2016 and the year could turn out to be a turning point in New Zealand and world politics.

With the vote in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, accompanied by electoral successes (or threatened successes) by far left or right insurgent parties in Europe, it looked as though something internationally and weighty significant was brewing.


We were not entirely immune from these forces though upset outcomes in local elections and an unexpectedly convincing win for the Labour Party in the Mount Roskill byelection amount to tremors rather than earthquakes.

Commentators were mostly hard pressed to link all of these disparate political forces but if there is any common thread it's that a now-angry group of voters who mostly do not bother to cast ballots did so and tilted what were to be "predictable" results.

The "Brexit" and Donald Trump polls were the most closely examined and it seems that a similar group of alienated, angered and "left-behind" white voters swung both results.

Similar findings have been made in France when the support for the extreme right-wing National Front party's support is analysed.

In Australia, similar forces seem to explain the resurgence of Pauline Hanson's toxic One Nation Party which won four Senate seats in the recent Federal Election and is already in the throes of splintering for the third or fourth time.

Trump was the most articulate proponent for the concerns of this irate group who Hillary Clinton unwisely labelled "deplorables".

The issues that Trump exploited (as did the Brexit supporters) were allegedly excessive immigration, stagnant wages, and disappearing job opportunities.

Globalisation and unmovable self-interested political elites were identified as the major causes of the deplorables' misery so Trump raged against free trade agreements and vowed to "drain the swamp".


This latter slogan was taken to mean that Trump would wage war on lobbyists and the forces of the rich that were sluicing the country's wealth to the most well off and starving the beleaguered middle classes of their rightful share.

He has almost certainly killed off the Trans-Pacific Partnership which New Zealand had worked so hard to promote, and may well take the USA out of the well established North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) but so far the swamp-draining exercise has amounted to appointing predictable political insiders.

Trump has a genius for simplification and memorable slogans. But politics is not simple as he'll quickly discover and slogans have a nasty habit of coming back and biting the sloganeer.

When we ask if any of these trends and political movements have resonance in New Zealand, the answer is not too clear.

Certainly we used to have a large and reasonably well-paid industrial working class which now seems a lot smaller than it used to be.

The jobs that sustained my father and our family simply no longer exist, but others have popped up and looking around our big cities, it's impossible to spot the kinds of "rust belts" of abandoned factories that blight once industrial powerhouses like Detroit and many towns in the North of England.

With the TPPA off the table courtesy of Mr Trump, free trade is unlikely to become an issue but immigration might.

The flow of immigrants reached an all-time high of more than 70,000 in the year to November 2016.

Forty-one thousand of these arrivals were on work visas and 24,000 arrived with student visas, many of which will allow the holder to take a job while studying.

Overall, New Zealand's unemployment rate is low, but there are pockets of serious distress like young Maori and Pasifika and locations like Northland.

The only player on our political stage positioned to follow the Trump-Brexit path to success is my politician of the year, The Right Honourable Winston Peters MP.

Now John Key has gone, Peters has the best political nose in the business and he's owned issues like immigration for years.

He's already benefiting from his reading of the political landscape with support for his New Zealand First Party averaging 10 per cent, more than double where it stood at the same time in the last electoral cycle.

With a quarter of enrolled voters not bothering to cast a ballot last time, Trump and Brexit suggest that these people may be Winston's happy hunting ground next year.

Even if a fragment of this nearly three quarters of a million potential voters were aroused by the Trump/Brexit issues, Bill English is in serious trouble!