It comes as no surprise that John Key and National remain top of the political pops a year into their reign. That's pretty much all down to Mr Key, a Prime Minister the like of whom we have never seen.

Our award-winning political commentator, John Armstrong, described him on Saturday as a "political phenomenon", which are the very words I had already chosen for this column. But, as is now and again the case when you write only weekly, someone beat me to it.

I have met almost every prime minister since Sid Holland led the first National Government elected in 1949, and none of them resembles today's incumbent.

When it comes to affability and consensus, perhaps Keith Holyoake comes close, but not all that close. I still remember as an early teenager barging into my father's office to find a little, dapper chap sitting there on his own. He sprang to his feet, held out his hand, and declaimed: "I'm Keith Holyoake, who are you?"

He never forgot a name, no matter how brief an acquaintance, but his plummy speech, immaculate formal dress and general aura of gravity set him apart. I imagine he spun in his grave when Mr Key entertained the media dressed in a casual sports shirt with no tie, and slacks.

But that really sums up Mr Key. He is a man of the people, as yet unspoiled by the poisonous atmosphere of power politics, and in spite of his position and spectacular wealth remains one of us.

He is every bit at home in the company of a class of primary schoolkids as he is with the man and woman in the street, or in the company of the world's high and mighty. He is amiable, engaging, good-natured, highly intelligent, humorous and, most of all, unaffected.

You feel comfortable in his presence; there is no "side" to him, no insistence on protocol, no efforts to protect him from the hoi polloi. And one of his most attractive traits, which he makes no effort to hide, is his unbridled enthusiasm for, and utter delight in, being Prime Minister.

Multi-millionaire he might be, but the perception of the public - reflected in his high poll ratings - is of a fatherless state house kid made good, and, in typical Kiwi fashion, we say good on him for it.

Unlike so many of our leading politicians in recent times, he has not graduated from the schoolroom or the lecture hall or the law office into politics, but has achieved significant personal success in the real world.

Thus he is short on theory and long on practice, and his readiness to admit to making a mistake or an error of judgment, so rare in politics, is just another quality appreciated by us Kiwis. He doesn't U-turn; he simply closes one door and opens another.

Nor is he - as so many wealthy people are - miserly. He is reported to give freely to charitable causes, and insists on paying for his wife to accompany him when he has to travel overseas.

As a proud New Zealander, this makes me cringe. He is our Prime Minister, the chief executive of our nation's business amounting to much more than $100 billion. He is, by private business standards, paid a pittance in salary and expenses.

As our principal face to the world, he should always travel in style, first class all the way, and should be able to take his wife, and even family, with him if he chooses - all at the Government's expense.

I've had second thoughts about parliamentary salaries and perks since I last wrote about them. If I were a politician, I would take full advantage of whatever was legitimately available.

Ministers, in particular, and parliamentarians in general, are members of the board of a vast enterprise, which some choose to call NZ Incorporated.

They work damned hard, they have no job security and the allowances and "perks" available to them are traditionally and legally theirs for the taking.

So, rather than moan every time a politician takes advantage of a perk, we should insist that the entire parliamentary pay, expenses and perks system be reformed.

But back to our popular PM. John Armstrong hypothesises that failure to deliver on the economy could see Mr Key's sparkling performance in his first year count for nothing more than burned-out neon come the 2011 election. I doubt it.

Mr Key is an avid fan of the All Blacks, a frequent attendee at their games and a regular, potently encouraging presence in their dressing room.

This is a political stratagem of astounding brilliance. For if the All Blacks win the World Cup on October 20, 2011, New Zealanders will be in such a state of euphoria that National will stroll over the line in early in November.