Political week - A year of it
OPINION: 2015 was the year no one saw coming. It was supposed to be a breather after a tumultuous election campaign and torrid couple of months. A period of consolidation. Time for National to square aware its legacy with a predictable third term agenda, and a solid majority in the House. A chance for Labour to lick its wounds after - yet another - humiliating election result and to rebuild under - yes, yet another - new leader.
So much for the script. 2015 was the year of Winston Peters and National's shock by-election loss, Ponytail gate, the Colin Craig train wreck, worm farms and The Housing Crisis.
There were winners. Andrew Little, the Labour leadership bolter. John Key, for staying on top in the polls, come back queen Judith Collins, and NZ First leader Winston Peters. And there were losers. Rookie Cabinet minister Sam Lotu-Iiga. Craig, whose political career is surely dead. And Key, who earns a place on the losers podium as well thanks to Ponytail-gate, which chipped away at his pedestal.
But there were also surprises. National raised benefits by $25 a week - the first Government in decades to give beneficiaries a pay rise. The new ACT leader David Seymour turned out to have a sense of humour. Andrew Little nearly missed out on a seat in Parliament at the election then came from nowhere to win the Labour leadership. And Green Party co-leader Russel Norman gave up the dream of a Cabinet post for a new job at Green Peace.
But the biggest surprise of the year was Northland. Who knew that voters in the winterless North would fall out of love with Key so soon after the general election where National had trounced all comers? All it took was a big blue bus, the guile of a politician like Peters and a string of blunders by National, like promising to build 10 bridges after years without building any.
Key launched the by-election with the confidence of Nostradamus that Peters had "zero chance" of winning. He spent the final week of the campaign wearing out some serious shoe leather trying to make up for his earlier complacency.
But it was too late and National lost both the seat and it's comfortable election night majority, which was reduced to a single vote.
That's why Peters wins our award for POLITICIAN OF THE YEAR. No one is as invigorated as Peters by the prospect of utu. He took a political gamble and backed himself to win. And in the process, the by-election rejuvenated both Peters and NZ First, which has a new purpose as the voice for provincial New Zealand.
Our runner up for Politician of the Year is Finance Minister Bill English. Ending the financial year with the books in surplus was his holy grail and after a few false starts, he finally got there.
Third place-getter must be Labour's Kelvin Davis. He has been devastatingly effective at undermining the Government's private prison programme and shows he knows how to play the long game in politics. His star is on the rise.
THE WINNERS IN OUR OTHER BIG CATEGORIES ARE:
Back bencher of the Year. National's Chris Bishop. It's not easy for a rookie MP to rise above the rest but Bishop did. He is destined for bigger things in a future National government.
Loser of the year. Lotu-Iiga. The Corrections portfolio has a reputation as a poisoned chalice and so it proved. Runners up are Green MP Kevin Hague, who seems to have lost his mojo after missing out on the leadership, and Labour's David Cunliffe, who has been told loud and clear he has no future in politics after being passed over in Little's reshuffle.
Quote of the Year: "As he rounded the corner behind me he commented 'that's a very tantalising ponytail'." Rosie cafe worker Amanda Bailey on John Key pulling her hair.
The Mallard cup: NZ First Ron Mark. He told Korean born MP Melissa Lee to go back to Korea, got tossed out more than any other MP and was caught out swearing by Parliament's microphones. For sheer bad behaviour in the House, Mark was unmatched.
THE BEST OF THE REST:
Annette King - Survivor Politics award. Subject a cockroach and King to a nuclear holocaust and the cockroach may not survive, but King would still be Labour's deputy leader.
Colin Craig - Coro Street award for best political soap opera. The year ended in a cliff hanger. Can he make a comeback? Tune in 2016.
Ron Mark - the Donald Trump award for tolerance towards migrants.
Murray McCully - the Lawrence of Arabia award for services to desert agriculture.
Phil Twyford - the Rewi Alley award for building NZ-China relations as mastermind of Labour's "pick an Asian sounding name" housing policy.
David Cunliffe - Whack-a-Mole award for refusing to know he's been flattened.
Simon Bridges - the Bridge too Far award for unsuccessfully parachuting policies into a by-election battle.
Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce - the Pantene award for services to hair care after his department was revealed as buying hair straighteners for its staff.
Kelvin Davis - the Santa Award for spreading the Christmas Island spirit.
Act leader David Seymour - The Bastille Day award for pointing out "the French love the coq". Say no more.
Speaker David Carter - The Nigel Llong award for poor umpiring
Health and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse - The Bear Grylls award for highlighting the dangers of worm farming
Conservation Minister Maggie Barry - the Tame Iti award for services to Tuhoe for renaming Te Ururoa Flavell Te Urewera Flavell.
Housing Minister Nick Smith - The Promised Land award- for pointing out unattainable building sites in Auckland.
Judith Collins - The Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator Award. She's back!
Labour MP Phil Goff - the Panasonic Microwave award for warming up his political career
Key - Bad Hair Day award for Ponytail-gate. The Ball Boy award for services in the All Black dressing room. And the John Oliver award for services to late night comedy shows. Yup. It was a big year for the prime minister.
Peters - Mr Congeniality. Okay so he's still cantankerous and argumentative 80 per cent of the time. But he does seem to be mellowing.
Sam Lotu-Iiga - The Reverse Great Escape award for tunnelling into trouble.
Gerry Brownlee - The Snow White award for naming Treasury Dopey.