Our election year front bench breakdown
Forget everything you thought you knew about the next election. Nothing in politics has followed the natural order of things over the last three years. Labour has had not one, but three leaders since the last election. John Key was National's best shot at becoming a four term government but then he upped sticks and left for the international speaking circuit and golf. The Green Party has lost a leader and voters while interest in environmental issues has never been higher. The only constant seems to be Winston Peters, smiling his usual crocodile grin and positioning himself as the next kingmaker – again.
But the election is still five weeks away. Everything could change again. MPs fired their last shots at each other across the debating chamber on Thursday and the next time they see each other will be in the heat of the campaign. Given what's happened over the last three years expect the unexpected has become their mantra.
So what's at stake? The allure of power, the chauffer driven limos, the perks of office and the ministerial salaries of course. But the real difference between being in Government and being in Opposition is the ability to effect real and long lasting change – your own portfolio, policies to implement, a chance to reshape the economy, or even the face of New Zealand.
So here's our score card on the MPs who might be shaping the agenda for the next three years.
* Labour's Jacinda Ardern unveils new election hoardings
* Bill English gets up close with the mood for change
* Beneficiary with children had benefit cut by half for seven months
* Winston Peters takes on MediaWorks
* Ask NZ's politicians your questions in our election debate
Prime Minister Bill English 8/10
Consistently topped the score card as finance minister but as leader suffers from comparisons with his former boss John Key and damaged his credibility over the Todd Barclay fiasco. Has maintained National's support at a high level so his credibility with voters is still a potent force.
Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett - 4/10
Bennett's westie schtick used to play well for National but it's looked increasingly brittle and one dimensional the higher up the ranks she moves. She has taken on some heavyweight portfolios in finance and climate change in an effort to boost her credentials as a future leader, but has failed to stand out in either.
Finance Minister Steven Joyce 8/10
His first budget was smart and delivered National a lift in the polls. Key strategist and campaign manager with a formidable reputation.
Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Brownlee - 8/10
As foreign affairs minister he has controversially rowed back on some of his predecessor Murray McCully's moves on Israeli-Palestinian relations, copping him some criticism but smoothing over the rift with Israel. Has slipped into the foreign affairs role surprisingly easily and having the weight of the Christchurch rebuild lifted off his shoulders seems to have restored his humour.
Transport Minister Simon Bridges - 6.5/10
Bridges has posted a big win with the Auckland Waterview project which has even passed the crucial taxi driver test. Also scored some wins for National from the cycling community. But hasn't solved Auckland congestion yet.
Justice Minister Amy Adams - 8/10
One of National's classier acts though she's so ernest it's hard to shake the head prefect label. Steered a way through the David Bain compensation controversy after it got beyond messy. Earmarked for bigger things in a future National Cabinet but her elbows may not be sharp enough.
Attorney General and Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson - 7.5 /10
Knocked off some Treaty settlements with a hiss and a roar after National came to power including some seemingly intractable cases like Tuhoe. But the big one – Nga Puhi – continues to elude him. Let down occasionally by confusing sarcasm for wit but a highly effective minister.
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman - 6/10
Across every detail of his portfolio, and has affected major change in getting the Pay Equity Settlement for aged care workers across the line. However, leading a ministry that has ticked up some massive multi-million dollar blunders and has a combative relationship with some DHBs. Has steered through heavy opposition claims of underfunding, but cracks papered over often reappear.
Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse - 4/10
Botched National's immigration policy which forced a politically embarrassing u-turn.
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley - 8/10
Won a lot of plaudits – from her opponents as well – for her overhaul of Child Youth and Family and establishment of the new Oranga Tamariki agency, the Ministry for Vulnerable Children.
Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy - 5/10
Has to take responsibility for some serious biosecurity incursions under his watch. Earnest, likeable but maybe a bit too laid back.
Jacinda Ardern - 9/10
( 6/10 before taking the leadership)
Has been a revelation as leader and has lifted the party from the doldrums into an even fight. Level pegging with English as preferred prime minister after after only three weeks in the job is a stunning outcome. Was always a popular politician but did not make big hits as a front-bench spokeswoman. But her score reflects the fact that she's barely had time to make any mistakes. Five weeks on the campaign trail will be the real test.
Kelvin Davis - 5.5/10
Made a name for himself in the Corrections portfolio. As Labour's first Maori deputy he is set to give the party an even bigger Maori vote and is a good foil to Ardern. But made a hash of his first attack on the National frontbench with his Dr Death nickname for Jonathan Coleman. Calling Bill English "The Rock" can only backfire.
Grant Robertson - 6.5/10
After a slow start has started to make headway in a pivotal role. It's always hard for a Labour finance spokesman to win over business, but his fiscal plan was a responsible programme of spending, surpluses and debt reduction
Housing spokesman Phil Twyford - 4.5/10
Knows his portfolio and is effective at making Nick Smith look silly. But housing is one of National's weaker points and Twyford could have done better than just getting Smith to give away half the job to Amy Adams. Worst of all, he spawned the "Chinese-sounding names" scandal which haunts Labour to this day.
Megan Woods - 5.5/10
Does not have a high profile on the national stage but influential in the shadow kitchen cabinet and has made a good fist of climate change issues. Has led Labour's approach to Canterbury's post-quake recovery. One of Labour's better debaters.
Education spokesman Chris Hipkins - 6.5/10
Had former minister Hekia Parata on the ropes fairly regularly and is nudging away at current minister Nikki Kaye as well. He did, however, have a meltdown with his involvement in the diplomatic row recently and his ill-judged decision to get involved in Australian politics.
Justice spokesman Andrew Little - 5/10
Too soon to say how he will do in justice. His leadership united the party but did not win over the voters and that has to be the ultimate measure of his success. Nothing became him as much as his gracious and timely resignation
OFF THE BENCHES
National's Defence Minister Mark Mitchell - 7/10
Passionate about the portfolio and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in Parliament who doesn't like him.
Labour's David Parker - 7/10
The party's policy powerhouse on everything from water to foreign affairs and shadow attorney-general. Shredded silly over-reactions to his water royalty including claims cabbages would cost $18. Would be a key player in a Labour-led Government. Influence belies his ranking at 10.