A HEALTH problem, now successfully resolved, has caused my extended silence and led me to a renewed appreciation of just what a good hospital system this country has developed. If you watch TV hospital dramas, you'd think that the doctors were the bedrock of a successful organisation, but the reality is that the key players are the nurses and we are blessed with many of the very best, as I found again during my recent experience.
I was reminded of events more than half a century ago when, at the age of seven, I fetched up in what was then the Hastings Memorial Hospital with polio.
I wasn't told at the time that I'd got the dreaded virus, but even at that tender age I knew that being put in isolation and seeing my father wearing a face mask to visit meant that something serious was wrong. My mother, who was pregnant at the time, was not allowed to visit at all; such was the fear of contagion in those days. I did have one regular visitor who did without face masks and even gave a frightened little boy welcome hugs. This was a senior nurse who came most evenings to read to me and offer very welcome conversation.
I don't recall her name and possibly never knew it; it was many years later that it dawned on me that, as far as she knew, she was risking her life to do what she did for me. This kind of commitment is still alive in the nursing profession and I hope that when the nurses' pay negotiations reach fruition this year, their main employer, the government, is generous.
With hindsight, 2015 was a year in politics when very little happened beyond National losing the "safe" seat of Northland to Winston Peters. This setback for Prime Minister John Key, which subtracted a key vote from National, didn't seem to dent his party's overall support and National remained in the mid 40s in the polls throughout the year. Labour recovered from its disastrous 25 per cent in the 2014 general election to a bit more than 30 per cent in poll support but remained well short of any real threat to the government.
The support Labour picked up during the year really just returned the party to its pre-2014 levels, but the party managed to unite behind leader Andrew Little who led a review of policy and successfully reshaped the Labour Parliamentary team. Little is starting to look like a prime minister in waiting, something that no Labour Party leader since Helen Clark managed. Under Little, Labour's relationships with its potential coalition partners have improved greatly.
The Greens managed a smooth leadership change with the new male co-leader James Shaw replacing Dr Russel Norman. Shaw could prove an interesting choice. He has a business background and may just nudge the Greens closer to National.
The Greens have been contesting elections for 25 years without winning a place in a government, so thinking the unthinkable may be getting tempting.
The NZ First Party quietly had a good year in 2015. Ron Mark became deputy leader, setting up a possible succession plan for when 70-year-old Winston Peters finally hangs up his spurs, and the win in Northland means that the party has the insurance policy of an electorate seat should its vote fall below the 5 per cent threshold for list seats in 2017. This assumes that Winston holds the Northland seat in that general election, but this seems likely given his emphatic win in the by-election.
This year in politics will see local elections with a media focus on the Auckland mayoralty vacated by Len Brown after two terms. Although all of the candidates are likely to be nominally "independents", in reality it will, as usual, be a battle between the two big parties, Labour and National. Labour will swing in behind former leader, Phil Goff, and National will support businesswoman Victoria Crone. Ms Crone was recruited by former National Party president Michelle Boag and will face an uphill battle against Goff who has the advantage of name recognition in what is by far the largest electorate in New Zealand.
National's ongoing poll support is largely generated by a feeling of economic well-being, but history tells us that this is fragile and can turn around over night. The PM will be watching the dairy price, still in the doldrums in the first auction in 2016, and some alarming trends in China.
Labour has laid the foundations for campaigns around housing, child poverty and growing inequality. It will be interesting to watch how these issues develop in the year ahead.
-Mike Williams grew up in Hawke's Bay. He is chief executive of the NZ Howard League and a former president of the Labour Party. He is a political commentator and can be heard on Radio NZ's Nine to Noon programme, at 11am Mondays, and Sean Plunket's RadioLive show, 11am, Fridays. All opinions are his and not those of HBT.