The year ended as it began in Parliament with the escalator between the Beehive and Bowen House under maintenance.

That escalator had become something of an auspice on the state of New Zealand politics.

When things were in upheaval it was broken, when they weren't it ran smoothly. It was broken for vast chunks of 2017.

It was broken for almost the entirety of the fortnight-long coalition negotiations between NZ First and Labour and National. So when it broke again in the last week, political journalists barely clinging on to sanity worked themselves into a froth wondering what the next development would be.


After all, the events that made 2017 began back in December 2016.

That was when former Prime Minister John Key stood down.

It thrust Bill English into the job he had never believed he would have – Prime Minister.

And it gave Labour leader Andrew Little a taste of that rare and – as it proved – transitory thing: hope.

For political journalists, the rule tends to be the more chaos, the better. This year we were pigs in muck.

Leadership changes were once rare things to be treasured. For nine years, Labour had been relied on to spice things up with a regular purge (usually after an election). This time it again came through – but it came early, subbing Jacinda Ardern in for Andrew Little a mere seven weeks before the election.

And other parties also got in on the act. The Maori Party, United Future and the Greens all had leadership changes.

Here the Herald recaps an eventful year in New Zealand politics. It was a humdinger – the most rambunctious I have seen in more than a decade covering politics.




If we are to look for the source of the 2017 flood, we can find it in former Greens co-leader Metiria Turei.

Turei's confession of historic welfare started a snowball of cause and effect that resulted in the change of leadership in Labour.

Her admission of historic welfare fraud at the party's conference in July resulted in an initial boost in the polls for the Greens.

That came at Labour's expense. Labour bombed while the Greens soared. It led to the most altruistic decision of 2017: Andrew Little stepping down as leader. He has since revealed only one senior MP had believed he was right to do so before that decision was made.

Jacinda Ardern and Andrew Little after their caucus vote at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Jacinda Ardern and Andrew Little after their caucus vote at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Ardern had resisted, encouraging him to stay on. Stuart Nash will go down in history as a flawed Nostradamus, for saying Labour would be "doomed" if it changed leader so close to the election.

The next day Ardern stepped up. She delivered the performance of her life – sure-handed, inspired and confident. She continued that way.

She moved to stamp her own mark on the campaign – issuing her rallying cry of climate change being "the nuclear-free moment for my generation" and targeting the environment and child poverty as her driving force.

It was the performance of someone who has spent a lot of time pondering what they would do if they became leader.

With Turei gone, her fellow co-leader, James Shaw, was left to try to keep the Greens' head above water. He was still a rookie, in his first term as an MP. Turei had carried much of the load of campaigning in 2014. Now Shaw faced a campaign with the Greens at record low levels of polling.

The year left many imponderables: if Little had held on until after the backlash over Turei, would his polling have rallied? Would Key have done any better against Ardern than English?



The prize for the twistiest, most unusual election campaign goes to 2014 -
largely due to the influence of Kim Dotcom, Dirty Politics and the "Moment of Truth".

That was a slippery campaign to cover, constantly growing heads in directions never imagined as Key battled for his third term while all and sundry were hurling missiles at him, trying to dent his Teflon.

By contrast, the 2017 campaign was a refreshing return to the old school bare-knuckled battle of personalities and policies.

The arguments were about poverty, mental health, housing and taxes.

Jacinda Ardern campaigning in Grey Lynn. Photo / Michael Craig
Jacinda Ardern campaigning in Grey Lynn. Photo / Michael Craig

There was the rural-urban divide, kicked off by Labour's policies on water taxes and the Emissions Trading Scheme and Peters' relentless focus on the regions to try to hold his own vote up.

It was a good, old-fashioned showdown between two very different people – English and Ardern.

Ardern was quite simply a phenomenon.

National resorted to attacking with fictional monsters (the $11.7 billion fiscal hole) and playing on suspicions of Labour's intentions when it came to tax.

Labour admittedly did not make the latter very difficult.

When the question over income tax proved too much of a drag anchor on Labour's momentum, Ardern hastily cut the chain and let it go adrift – ruling out any income tax increases.

She did not do the same with the capital gains tax but did back down on her original intention to possibly implement the tax if it was needed.

When Labour's poll rises stalled it was more than just the hole or the question marks over taxes.

Bill English on the campaign trail in Cambridge. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Bill English on the campaign trail in Cambridge. Photo / Mark Mitchell

For English too was proving a phenomenon. The more Labour's polling went up, the harder he campaigned.

And reporters on the trail were discovering New Zealanders were not as susceptible to being bedazzled as was first thought.

There was little acrimony toward Ardern, indeed many voters were entranced. But there was also uncertainty and many thought she needed more time than a mere month in the role of leader before she should be able to become Prime Minister.

"Next time" was a common refrain.

Ardern had clearly heard it too. In the last week, she issued a direct plea to those voters who thought she needed more time that there was no more time to make changes needed.

The result sparked much futile debate about whether New Zealanders had voted for change or not.

Given Peters had refused to say which way he would go during the election, his votes do not count in this equation. Let us simply say it was a draw – as many people voted for change as did not.


Peters burst into the campaign early, riding a bus with "Straight Talking Express" on the side.

He rattled around the country singing protest songs against separatism and announced many things that would never happen.

When the campaign proper began, Peters' billboards were already up. "Had enough?" they asked.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters aboard his campaign bus with NZ First MPs.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters aboard his campaign bus with NZ First MPs.

Even Peters would not have known what was coming next.

Peters has been Lazarus on repeat throughout his political career – his party waxing and waning as if guided by some invisible supermoon.

This year it waxed until Ardern trumped that supermoon. Until that point, Peters had been expecting to get about 15 per cent in the polls – with some cause.

That result almost halved immediately after Ardern was elected – although Peters continued to insist that his party was polling higher than any of the polls were showing.

When the final die was cast, Peters discovered the pollsters were right all along. To rub it in, he lost Northland.

The leaking of news that Peters had had to repay money for seven years of overpayments in his super added to the list of events Peters blamed for that drop in his polling.

The wily one managed to turn that around from a potential rorting scandal (or at least a scandal of neglect – a politician of Peters' standing should have been careful to ensure he was getting what he was entitled to) to a smear campaign against him.

He blunted its effect by painting himself the victim instead of wrongdoer.

Although much of Peters' disappointing result was likely down to the rise in popularity of Ardern sucking away his own voters, Peters chose to blame National instead.

He cited Bill English's cry to "cut out the middleman" as the call of the siren which lured NZ First voters away and blamed National for leaking those super details.

Nonetheless, Peters ended the year where he had expected to be at the start – with the balance of power.

He had hoped to hold that balance of power without the Greens getting in the way, but managed to swallow that distaste and agree to a governing arrangement which included them – but had NZ First in a superior position.

Peters brought with him his Mini-Lazarus – Shane Jones, who returned to Parliament after three years in the bureaucratic quagmire of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this time with NZ First instead of Labour.


Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters during their post-Cabinet press conference at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters during their post-Cabinet press conference at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

After the storm came the calm – an uneasy calm in the enforced waiting period of a fortnight while Peters waited to see the final election results.

Then came the storm again – the flurry of negotiations.

Reporters worked off campaign bulge sprinting around the complex (the escalators were down) and then put it on again eating the treats delivered to stand-ups.

There were reports of eye strain from watching lift doors for hours on end. The only comic relief was provided by Shane Jones, who was dubbed the Sphinx after taking on the job as oracle, delivering cryptic hints by talking about monarch butterflies and shining cuckoos. We should have known then, really.

Ardern might not have managed to convince as many voters to put their trust in her as English – but she did manage to convince the one who counted most: Peters.

At first, it had seemed Peters was struggling with a decision. In hindsight, it appears he was not. He had legal papers waiting to be served on National ministers over his super payments.

Anne Tolley got some small revenge – in her affidavit to the court, she wrote that a written report on Peters' super payments was among the documents her office shredded after Peters cast his lot with Labour and kicked National out of office. That was, she said, before she knew of his legal action.

Peters greater regret was that having tap-danced on both sides of the political spectrum to get his voters, he now had to choose just one – and that would mean the risk of an exodus of supporters who had wanted him to choose the other.


Politics is not politics without something of the absurd.


Winston Peters was jeered into silence at a rally in Morrinsville, held beneath a giant cow. Photo / Alan Gibson
Winston Peters was jeered into silence at a rally in Morrinsville, held beneath a giant cow. Photo / Alan Gibson

The highlight of the campaign was a farmers' rally at Morrinsville, held beneath a giant cow. Ardern was not there, nor English. But the farmers came and Myrtle the Tractor and so did Winston Peters, who was at first laughed at before being jeered into silence.

The catalyst for that was Ardern's policies on water charges, the Green's policy for a nitrates tax and reducing stock numbers.

One NZ First supporter bore a sign referring to Ardern as "a pretty communist".


Eminem took on National. Photo / AP
Eminem took on National. Photo / AP

National was still suffering a hangover of 2014 – Eminem's court case against the National Party for its use of a modified version of Lose Yourself played out throughout the year.

The "pretty legal" summation Steven Joyce had used in 2014 to brush off claims the music was filched was his most famous catchphrase – just ahead of "$11.7 billion fiscal hole".

Eminem won, National lost – for the second time in a year – but at least National can appeal this one.

National were not the only ones in court – Little too spent a fair bit of time facing defamation proceedings from hoteliers Earl and Lani Hagaman. He was cleared of defamation against Lani Hagaman but the verdicts on Earl Hagaman were less conclusive – the case was effectively closed when Mr Hagaman died soon after.


PM's late cat, Paddles. Photo / Twitter
PM's late cat, Paddles. Photo / Twitter

The death of Ardern's cat, Paddles, came soon after she was sworn in as Prime Minister and the day before she had to fly to APEC.

The news of it spread globally. Japan's PM, Shinzo Abe, even passed on his commiserations over Paddles during their formal meeting at APEC.


FIRST 100 DAYS of a Labour – NZ First and Greens Government

The change in government offered no relief in pace. The only relief was that English did not stand down, which meant there was no need to cover a leadership contest in National as well as the first steps of the new Government.

For English, 2017 will go down as his year of redemption and a missed opportunity. English had withstood the stardust and put his dire 21 per cent result of 2002 firmly behind him.

In 2008, 44.9 per cent was enough to sweep former National leader John Key into power against a faded and jaded Labour Party. In 2017, 44.4 per cent won English the unwanted honour of being the first leader to take the party with the highest share of the vote back into Opposition.

Winston Peters, Jacinda Ardern and James Shaw , leaders of the new coalition government.
Winston Peters, Jacinda Ardern and James Shaw , leaders of the new coalition government.

Peters was perhaps the only one of the three parties now in Government who was expecting to be there and ready to be there.

The scrabble for staff, ministers stumbling in Question Time, the shortage of experienced MPs for Cabinet posts, select committee leaders and even the associate Speaker roles all highlighted it. There was also a lull while legislation to implement the 100 Days plan was worked out.

Labour was confronted with the Monster Opposition: a National Party of 56 MPs.
There were the dramatic scenes on the first day in Parliament as National almost pulled the skids out from under the election of the Speaker Trevor Mallard when it discovered Labour was down a few MPs on the day of the vote.

But Labour started rolling. The Pike River Agency, the compensation adjustment for Teina Pora, free fees for tertiary students.

There were a few strategic backflips as well – the Labour Party that would not support the TPP is now supporting the CPTPP after the US withdrawal made it possible to suspend elements it did not like around investor-state disputes legislation.

Legislation to allow for an effective ban on foreign buyers of land is due to come into place early next year.

Ardern's diplomatic efforts were slightly less successful – she invited Australia's PM, Malcolm Turnbull, to come fishing next year but failed in her attempts to get him to let New Zealand take refugees from Manus Island.


The headcount for 2017 was substantial. The Maori Party was gone, as was United Future. United Future's founder Peter Dunne was gone, as was Turei.

Todd Barclay came a cropper early, unable to survive the ongoing scrutiny over his alleged recording of his electorate office staff and refusal to take part in Police investigations into it.

Metiria Turei and James Shaw, surrounded by their caucus, holding a stand-up media conference at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Metiria Turei and James Shaw, surrounded by their caucus, holding a stand-up media conference at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Hubris played a part for Turei, the Maori Party and Barclay.

Dunne jumped before he could be toppled. Little lived to fight another day and has proven one of the most active of Labour's new Cabinet.

TOP and the soon to be renamed Conservative Party were hanging on by a thread and big talk.

All circuses need sideshows and in 2017 this had come in the form of Gareth Morgan's Opportunities Party.

Morgan added the piquancy to an election campaign that the Conservatives and Internet Party had added the election before. He brought us his "lipstick on a pig" reference about Ardern and Labour.

He perhaps went a step too far when he also brought us a sledge about the death of Paddles – querying whether on the day Paddles died he had been out hunting. His party attracted the anarchists and the undecideds. He got a creditable 2.4 per cent – not bad for a party's first outing.

But the fate of both the Conservative Party and Internet Party will show the struggle that lies ahead for TOP. Morgan has stepped back, as well as the party's engine room – Geoff Simmons.

NZ First has survived terms out of Parliament. But few others have. The motto "if at first you don't succeed try, try again" doesn't always work out in politics.