Key my politician of the year, but now for the third-term blues
This week John Key confirmed he definitely plans to stand for a fourth term in 2017.
To my question if he was 100 per cent committed to running again, he said simply: "Yup, sure am".
Right after election night's crushing win there was talk of him winning a fourth term. I thought such talk was far too excitable and premature.
And the reality is Key has three tricky years to negotiate: third terms are awfully difficult and littered with roadside bombs. Small issues that are easily manageable in a first or second term become much harder.
Any splits, divisions and weaknesses are all magnified.
The first few months of the new regime have been largely underwhelming.
Not telling the truth about his contact with attack blogger WhaleOil hurt the prime minister. It was a royal stuff-up and he admits this privately.
The big problem for political leaders is that voters eventually tire of seeing the same person in office. Former Labour spin doctor Mike Munro used to tell me the tread wears away from the tyres until they go bald.
It's happening for Key, slowly. His jokes don't seem as funny. He looks more haunted and hunted these days.
Yet despite all these warnings and observations, Key has to be my pick for politician of the year. He weathered a torrid election campaign, yet emerged with an even stronger mandate.
But the tide doesn't rise in a third term, it only goes out. And there's usually a moment when the rot starts to sets in. Key isn't there yet, but he needs to be vigilant and run a tight ship. In this country we vote governments out - not in.
In 1999 Jenny Shipley's judgment and performance was poor (trying to sack 1600 firefighters - political madness). Helen Clark and Jim Anderton buried the hatchet, united to offer an alternative and voters went for it.
Clark later won a third term but lost all her momentum when she supported the anti-smacking legislation. Support for Labour dived from 44 per cent to 34 per cent. Within a month.
Clark never recovered. Talk about the third term blues.
Politics is all about timing. And Andrew Little's timing is superb. He's arrived at the right time in the electoral cycle.
The Labour MPs at the annual Press Gallery party on Wednesday night had a real spring in their step. They told me the best thing about Little is that he looks and sounds normal.
It doesn't sound that ambitious from them, but they are genuinely relieved to have Little at the helm. The David Cunliffe experiment was a disaster.
And Little doesn't need to be some kind of rock-star, charisma-filled joker. He just needs to carry on the way he's going - steady. He has time on his side.
But Winston Peters made an interesting point to me on Wednesday night. He thinks Labour and Green MPs have lost the ability to speak to ordinary people about ordinary things in a country pub.
He was really adamant about it. It's a message to Little that he needs to get out of Parliament and tour the pubs, clubs and RSAs.
So who are my losers of the year? This one's much easier to call: Kim Dotcom, Hone Harawira, Laila Harre.
Dotcom blew millions of dollars turning his once-sympathetic adopted homeland against him. Harawira laid down with a dog and got fleas and Harre shattered the commonly-held belief that she was a talented politician. Their credibility is in tatters.
They were the biggest casualties in the dirtiest election in our political history. Meanwhile Key must take some responsibility for the underhand tactics and "black ops" shenanigans exposed by Nicky Hager.
The fact Key is no longer engaging on this subject is a tacit admission he and his office got it horribly wrong.
The other big loser this year has to be we the voters. The campaign descended into muck-raking and we end the year none the wiser about the issues that really matter.
The cost of housing is crippling the working poor. There is very little wage growth - did you get a decent pay rise this year in a supposed rock star economy?
And thirdly, how do we revive the regions? A strong Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch is no good if we have ghost towns littered around the countryside.
So there are a few challenges for Key. He must now tackle these big issues and find some momentum.
Because at some stage that third-term moment will sneak up and smack you - and they're usually game-changers.
- The Dominion Post