Until December 5, when John Key announced his resignation as Prime Minister, New Zealand's political dramas this year had been dwarfed by dramas in the United States elections and Britain's EU vote.

Many of the big events this year were of things that were not done, rather than things that were: New Zealand failed to change its flag; the TPP failed to be ratified by enough countries; Helen Clark failed to be elected Secretary General of the United Nations, any one of which would have been a fine legacy for Key had it been pulled off.

But the real drama was abroad. In the US in particular, it wasn't just the election of Donald Trump as president but the preceding contest that gripped the world in a shared reality-television event.

It was compulsive viewing to see how far Trump would go in lowering standards of accepted campaign behaviour and civilised discourse, to see if he could recover one more time from mounting revelations about him or outbursts by him.


In the end there were so many that they may have lost their impact.

It was an event in which it was almost impossible to remain neutral.

The views of the New Zealand Government, especially Key and Foreign Minister Murray McCully, came unusually close to endorsing Hillary Clinton.

They may have felt unrestrained in doing so not only because she was clearly sane and they thought she was going to win, but because both had had close engagement with her as former Secretary of State in the repair of US-NZ diplomatic relations.

Two of the most vital partnerships Key formed as Prime Minister was with his deputy and Finance Minister, Bill English for eight years; and with McCully in international affairs for eight years.

They lifted New Zealand's relationships with Pacific and Asian countries, South America, Europe and the United States.

And their work with America, begun by Helen Clark, took relations to a new level.

This year's visits to New Zealand by Vice-President Joe Biden, who announced the first US Navy visit in 43 years, and Secretary of State John Kerry were milestones in the almost-normal state of affairs.


The fact that the ship, the USS Sampson, was diverted en route to help with Kaikoura earthquake relief, fortuitously allowed it to avoid triumphalism, pomp and protest.

Nonetheless the normalisation of relations with the US was one of the most significant political achievements of the year, and of the Key Government.

It remains to be seen whether the Trump Administration will pick up where the Obama Administration left off or pay as much attention to its South Pacific friend.

It is certainly in the national interest for McCully to remain Foreign Minister as English gets up to speed in his vital international affairs role.

Relationships are everything in diplomacy and it makes no sense for English to be getting his best political advice from someone new to the portfolio, rather than someone at the top of his game.

Gerry Brownlee was having a very good year until this week. His counter-attack on a frustrated homeowner in quake-hit Kekerengu this week during an inspection by the new Prime Minister was a dreadful lack of self-discipline.

It reflected badly on a minister who until then deserved accolades for the way he stepped in to the Kaikoura quake as Civil Defence Minister, building on his experience in Christchurch.

Ministers whose work this year should change people's lives are Amy Adams with a set of measures to reduce family violence, and Anne Tolley's overhaul of the way the state deals with vulnerable children.

Todd McClay in Trade also deserves a special mention. He had a bad start to the new job by not properly briefing the Prime Minister on a China-steel issue. But his commitment to reach across the aisle to Labour and New Zealand First, taking them on recent trade missions to Europe and Iran, is highly commendable.

Trade is too important to New Zealand to be left victim to the vagaries of opposition politics and a return by Labour to bipartisanship is important.

In Opposition, Labour leader Andrew Little grew in confidence, as did Greens co-leader James Shaw.

They recently made a joint appearance on a current affairs show, a determined effort to eschew concerns over the two parties' memorandum of understanding.

Shaw, a former PWC consultant, is by far the most moderate co-leader the Greens have had in Parliament and the scare campaign rings hollow. And he has repeatedly said the Greens would not expect finance in any coalition, something not previously conceded.

Labour frontbenchers Annette King in health, Phil Twyford in housing and Grant Robertson for his future of work project are Labour's top performers.

Twyford's star is rising further, having been named as Labour's campaign chairman for 2017, a role he also had in the huge Mt Roskill byelection victory.

The biggest hit Little made was over something completely out of his control - a humongous full frontal nude portrait of him in the medium of woven rug art.

The good-natured way he took it went some way to humanise him.

One of the big-impact MPs this year has been Marama Fox, the co-leader of the Maori Party.

Half the problem for a two-person party, especially when the other half is up to his neck in ministerial duties, is being noticed and Fox has a natural gift for getting noticed and reminding the electorate that the Maori Party exists.

Her rendition of Santa Baby in Parliament's adjournment debate this week, with Te Ururoa Flavell on ukulele, went viral.

Other Parliaments around the world occasionally erupt into physical violence; in New Zealand they erupt into song.

Backbencher of the year goes to first-term National list MP Chris Bishop. He has had luck in getting private member's bills drawn from the ballot but unlike many in the ballot, his are meaningful bills.

And because of his bill, live organ donors will be compensated 100 per cent for loss of income for up to three months.

Another bill addresses some technical anomalies that allowed an award-winning book Into the River by Ted Dawe to be subject to an interim ban for six weeks in 2015.

Essentially the bill will offer the President of the Film and Literature Board of Review other options.

He has huge promise although it is unlikely the new Prime Minister would promote a first-term MP to a ministerial post in his reshuffle on Sunday.

English and Bennett have clearly had a great year, partly through luck - John Key's retirement - and partly by design.

But English has left the economy is a relatively strong position and Bennett's effort to address social housing with a thorough review and $300 million over four years, more than makes up for her ropy political management of the issue earlier this year.

Stuff is actually happening. Last week, for example, a new state-funded development was opened in Glen Eden with 15 units for vulnerable families to be run by community housing groups.

There is, however, only one contender for Politician of the Year, John Key for the sheer audacity of his exit after eight years in office, and for the kind of Prime Minister he was.

It has been described as a selfless and courageous decision, which may be overstating the case if the main driver was Key's fear of becoming unpopular.

But even if that were the case, it is a valid one.

"Truthfully I'm the kind of person that likes to be liked, and most people are, but I'm particularly of that sort of nature," he said of himself disarmingly this week.

He may not have been physically accessible to all but he made his personality accessible.

There was almost nothing about him that was unknown. He was a leader who not only found it easy to be liked, he actually needed to be liked.

Mostly that need was fulfilled. He was truly the "Everyman" Prime Minister, and that made him unique.