Time for my six-month report card assessing the performance of our leading politicians. It is drizzling rain and cold outside here at Poukawa but the woodfire is warm in my office and my son's rugby boots are drying in front of it. A lamb curry I made an hour ago is stewing on the stove, its flavours wafting through the house. The little dogs are with me, asleep on the chairs. I have Simon and Garfunkel on the stereo. Given all of this, and the warmth of my hearth, my assessments may err on the generous side.

Anyway, I like most politicians. I find most are good people. And there is another little matter, of course. I need them to come on Q&A on Sunday mornings. One walks a fine line. So here goes.

John Key (National)

Wildly successful so far as Prime Minister. Winning the job has given him enormous confidence and he handles pressure in the House with easy good humour. His ability to talk to all kinds of people is something to behold. I have seen him at a big gathering moving around a couple of hundred people and I have seen him in a room with four or five strangers. I rather fancy myself as being pretty good at working a room but Key is one of the best I have seen. Unpretentious. Nothing grand, just normal, possibly the most normal Prime Minister we have had. This makes it so hard for Labour. Key touches everyone he speaks to. He listens and is disarmingly frank.

He is very good in coalition. He knows to be tolerant of utterances from minor parties because he knows that outspoken people join minor parties and the minor parties are issues parties.

Of course, he presses my buttons with what he is saying about the methamphetamine epidemic. At last a senior political figure, the Prime Minister no less, wants to take the issue on. Despite the Mt Albert chaos, and despite the odd bit of general looseness in the Government lately, Key is completely unscathed.

Rating: 10/10 (at this stage of the game)

* * *

Phil Goff (Labour)

A good man, incredibly hard-working, accomplished and, as always, easy in the House. If no one is listening to Labour yet, it is not his fault. There was a sea change last November and the new Cabinet is young and fresh. He has been shrewd with National's clumsiness in Mt Albert, said just enough and no more. One has the feeling though, with Phil, that he has to be the first boy in the class to put his hand up to answer a question. Always good-humoured, even after hard questioning. One difficulty he might be having gaining traction is that those on the benches opposite are so new to the game. They do not play by his rules or work to the game plans he has developed over many years in the House.

Rating: 7/10

* * *

Rodney Hide (Act)

Never underestimate Rodney. Cool under pressure and has come back from the dead several times. While he negotiated a good deal with the National Party, he knows nevertheless that it is a numbers game and he lives well with a more centrist National Party than he would like to see. Decisive on the Supercity. Can stand up to anyone. Always manages to be noticed.

Rating: 8/10

* * *

Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples (Maori Party)

Both are adroit operators, both are realists, but both have their bottom lines. They also know their numbers and they know which hills to die on. In their coalition, they must never be taken for granted. Tariana is perfectly gracious, unflappable in her media appearances, serious but warm. Pita Sharples is committed, straight, hard-working, good-humoured. He is hard to interview, actually, because he simply appeals to common sense and is not afraid of the short answer. And, between them, they appear to manage Hone Harawira with ease.

Rating: 9/10

* * *

Russel Norman (Greens)

Has developed an easy style and projects himself and his party with a pleasant moderation. He is becoming very good on television as he relaxes into the job of, I guess, principal co-leader. He can have a laugh. He is fast on his feet and brave in the House.

Rating: 8/10

* * *

Judith Collins (National)

The Crusher. Faultless. Shrewd, soft of voice, economical of speech and no nonsense. One senses that if she says she will do something, it will be done. She is a steady ship. Even Brian Edwards tells us on his blog, when he saw her on Q&A he wanted to dislike her. He could not. She appeared to offer every support to the police during the Napier siege.

Rating: 9/10

* * *

Annette King (Labour)

I have huge respect for King. She is one of the safest pairs of hands that Lange, Palmer, Moore and Clark ever had. She is a tough battler and a fine performer. Never tries to steal the limelight. As Helen Clark once told me, Annette looks for work. She is also a nice person with a great sense of humour. She sits comfortably as Goff's deputy. She is a fine wingman. I would always want her covering the flank.

Rating: 9/10

* * *

Paula Bennett (National)

Straight up, brave and normal. She is an example of the newness that is giving the Nats such a good run. She speaks like your neighbour. She stood up in the House this week and said how disappointing it was as a new minister to find there are no buckets of money. In fact, she said it was hard even to find the buckets. This is the talk people can understand. She is a normal Kiwi. She is undamaged by the Christine Rankin nonsense, despite the clamour.

Rating: 8/10

* * *

Bill English (National)

Head down, bum up. Knows where he stands, despite those who think otherwise. Dealing with a miserable load at present. Canny Budget, leaving his options open. No money. Frightening numbers. God knows what will happen. His people and Key's people need to sort out what each is going to say on the main issues. Some strange contradictions mean there is potential for something to go seriously wrong.

Rating: 8/10
Simon Power (National)

Very, very good. Pleasant, reasonable and approachable. Young and on to things. He was picked as one to watch when he first came into the House and he has not disappointed. He has a demeanour of genuine inquiry and is smart across a range of issues. One of Key's best people and safest lieutenants.

Rating: 9/10

* * *

Gerry Brownlee (National)

Fearless on his feet, a decent pugilist, he will scrap with, and occasionally demolish, whomever Labour puts up against him. God knows how he will work out what to do with the electricity industry, which no one can understand except those who manage to gouge us. He is National's dependable wingman. If one of the National caucus is under too much pressure from opposite, Gerry will be on his feet with a rebuttal to dampen the attack or a point of order to slow the pace down.

Rating: 8/10

* * *

David Cunliffe (Labour)

Managing the transition to finance spokesman well. Can be fierce in debate, a passionate speaker, lethal on attack. Always well briefed. Too smooth? Perhaps. But David Cunliffe is Labour's man to watch.

Rating: 9/10
Lockwood Smith, Speaker (National)

His moderation and equilibrium has made Parliament a pleasure to watch. He does not shout. He does not bash microphones and blast the viewers' ears. He keeps one microphone low and one microphone high so that whether he is sitting or standing the sound is perfect. I love the scarlet stripes on the Speaker's robe.

Rating: 10/10

* * *

National's strengths: It has more depth than anyone imagined. Its leading figures can handle themselves well in the House. They speak normally. They have a younger look. They have young families and are well in touch.

Labour's strengths: It is not without youth in its leading ranks but many of the old guard are still there. That gives the front bench decades of experience. They are cut-throat. They are never asleep. They are crocodiles who know how to wait in the mud for the fawn to come to drink.