Tracy Watkins: Politicians in search of goodwill to end the year

John Key - his flag referendum looks to have flopped, but his Government still rides high.
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John Key - his flag referendum looks to have flopped, but his Government still rides high.

OPINION: There will be a spring in peoples' steps around Parliament this week. The 2015 political year is nearly done and dusted.

All that's left now is a last scramble to tidy up the legislative calendar, the traditional dump of sensitive documents officials hope will be lost in the pre-Christmas rush, a final round of end of year interviews and the adjournment debate calling it a wrap on the Parliamentary year.

That's where we will hear speeches from some of Parliament's more talented orators who - you never know -  may even restore some humour to an increasingly toxic debating chamber.

Winston Peters on the campaign trail in Northland - his win changed the political landscape
Hannah Peters

Winston Peters on the campaign trail in Northland - his win changed the political landscape

The closing act will be the traditional Press Gallery party, one of the few occasions during the year when journalists and politicians from across the political divide leave their grudges at the door to mingle over the barbecue and a few wines.

And at the end of the evening we will say goodbye for another year, most of us giving heartfelt thanks that it should be weeks before we have to see each other again.

Because 2015 has been yet another turbulent political year - think ponytail-gate, resignations, pork barrel politics, the shock Northland by-election loss, another baby formula scare, secret trips to Iraq, yet more spying allegations, the "rapists" backlash, Saudi sheep deals, a polarising flag debate, the bizarre Colin Craig train wreck, leadership surprises and an economy buffeted by plunging dairy prices and a housing crisis.

The waitress at the center of ponytail-gate, Amanda Bailey.
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The waitress at the center of ponytail-gate, Amanda Bailey.

So what's the sum of all that?

Maybe that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Because the Government ends the year as it began, ploughing through turbulence, controversy and crisis to emerge battle scarred and worn, but with its bow still riding high, according to the latest polls.

This truly is the Houdini government.

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There are signs that Prime Minister John Key's star is waning, but from such dizzy heights there's a way for it to fall yet before National will start to panic.

But it's not been a bad year for Labour either, all things considered.

There was no great honeymoon for Labour leader Andrew Little, but then again, there were no great disasters either.

This was a year of consolidation and solidity - the caucus looks united, there have been some standout performances, and Little has stamped out the dysfunction and backbiting that were the hallmark of recent years.

He deserves far more kudos for that than he has received so far.

So what has changed? 2015 was the year the minor parties found their feet, and their voice, though - with the exception of NZ First - the polls haven't rewarded them for it.

Peters was the standout, rocking the political landscape with his Northland by-election win and, in the process, giving NZ First a fresh purpose as the voice for the "forgotten" provinces in heartland New Zealand.

But more significant than the win was the fact that Peters also changed the political landscape by robbing National of its margin of error on Parliamentary votes.

Day to day it has caused few ripples, but it may not be too dramatic to call it now as the making or breaking of the Key Government's prospects of a fourth term.

The first signs of a revolt are stirring over concessions made to the Maori Party on issues like fresh water and the Resource Management Act, and Peters knows better than most how to play those cards.

Meanwhile, UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne reinvented himself as the coalition Government's conscience and caused National just enough of a headache to free himself of the 'poodle" tag.

Dare I say it,  Dunne may even be the new cool.

ACT leader David Seymour is another revelation, combining quirkiness, eccentricity and independent thought in equal measure, though it is still hard to look past the young fogey-ishness.

But he has done more to bring ACT back to its founding Liberal Party roots than some of his more recent predecessors.

The Maori Party has floundered with the loss of its twin pillars of strength, Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples, but despite all that new co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell has probably achieved far more behind the scenes in his Maori Affairs portfolio than Dr Sharples.

New face Marama Fox has bought a refreshing sassiness to the party, and will likely outshine her co-leader Flavell on the campaign trail.

And the party has wrung important concessions from National, which it will remind voters about in 2017.

As for the Greens, who sit uncomfortably between big party and minor party status, this has been a year of soul searching after a disappointing election result and the loss of co-leader Russel Norman. More ripples from installing outsider James Shaw over old hands like Kevin Hague and Gareth Hughes may yet be felt when MPs consider their futures ahead of the next election.

But Shaw has already made some canny moves that suggest he was the right choice to de-tune some of the messages that were scaring off potential voters. Metiria Turei has been just bolshie enough to suggest she too has heard the speculation about a push for change in the female co-leadership.

As for Colin Craig, he looks to have delivered his Conservative Party a death blow. There is no way back from the scandal, intrigue and bizarre allegations surrounding Craig this year.

And so it ends - nearly. There are a few days left of course when anything can happen. And after the year that's been who could rule that out?

 - Stuff

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