Dec 14th, 2017
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  1. Just over a year ago I wrote my review of politics in 2015. Well, you’ve no doubt spent the last 12 months waiting with baited breath for me to write the sequel and here, for your reading pleasure, is it.
  3. 2016 has been an absolutely fascinating year in politics... in every western country except New Zealand, where presumably we’re waiting until 2017 to bring out the fireworks.
  5. While I do my best to be as objective as possible, my own relationship with politics has changed over the last year - I’ve gone from being a neutral observer to an active participant and the line seems to have become blurred regarding whether I’m a Beltway “insider” or an “outsider” - moving back to Auckland has of course changed my vantage point. Either way, expect it to be unintentionally biased.
  7. Without further ado, here are my own perceptions of how 2016 has been in New Zealand politics.
  8. The Parties:
  10. National: Third-term-itus seems to have settled in at long last for a government that still manages to defy political gravity where the polls are concerned.
  12. There is a real sense that the tide is going out for them - the housing crisis is starting to do them real political damage, the Saudi sheep scandal has become an embarrassment (and not just because it’s a New Zealand scandal involving sheep, thereby playing up to foreign stereotypes) and the TPP (which they spend so much energy advocating) looks dead in the water.
  14. In a year of a tremendous anti-establishment backlash, National have shown themselves to be on the wrong side twice - first by publicly backing Remain during the UK EU Referendum (never mind the potential for New Zealand) and secondly by having several senior Ministers (including the new Deputy Prime Minister) publicly mock the now President-elect of the United States.
  16. Obviously incumbent governments can’t, and often shouldn’t, be blamed for international circumstances, but National suddenly finding themselves wrongfooted by the global situation has only served to emphasise what they’ve done domestically for eight years: Absolutely nothing.
  18. Luckily for them the opposition remains in disarray and John Key is as popular as ever. They should be able to scrape a fourth term as long as nothing happens to Key, such as him being hit by a bus, or say, resigning...
  20. Labour: You could be forgiven for seriously suspecting that Labour are deliberately trying to lose the next election. They seem to be a party of half a step forward and five steps backwards, and what’s worse seem arrogant enough to believe that John Key’s resignation is going to translate into votes for them.
  22. Supposedly Andrew Little is a great leader who has kept the Caucus in line - and by that we mean his three predecessors have or will be leaving Parliament, negating any threat from the Cunliffe faction, or the “neoliberal” (pro-TPP) faction. Yet none of it has translated into poll numbers and none of it has quelled speculation that another “Gracinda” challenge might be looming.
  24. What Labour needs is policy, and unfortunately it just doesn’t have any. It seems to have reversed two of its more unpopular policies - raising the retirement age and being less vocal on CGT, in the vain hope that this might win voters back from National.
  26. Every other policy seems to have been lifted from either the New Zealand First manifesto, or the Green Party manifesto and in the rare event that they do come out with something genuinely exciting such as Kiwibuild or UBI, they bungle it up, don’t do the research properly and look like clowns whenever somebody actually runs the numbers.
  28. Their marriage to the Greens will last until death do them apart - because Labour’s death is just over the horizon.
  30. They’re now totally alienated the working class vote (hint: You can talk about your leader being part of the union movement all you want, but in this day and age most workers aren’t unionised and don’t know what the hell you’re on about), the middle class support base has gone to the Greens, the centrists have gone to National and while I’m not predicting Gareth Morgan’s party will make it into Parliament, I do believe that Labour will be the party that suffers most because of his presence on the political spectrum.
  32. Yes they might have scraped a win in Mount Roskill, but they look set to give up on important swing seats like Auckland Central, Hutt South and Ohariu - I’ve said before that their strategists need to not so much be fired, as be shot.
  34. All in all, Labour are cruising for a bruising next year. They’ll be lucky if they get more than 20% of the vote.
  36. Greens: The biggest challenge for the Greens this year, and going forward, has and will be Caucus unity - the divide within the party is becoming more and more painfully obvious.
  38. Despite public appearances, the faultline between Metiria Turei’s “Red-Greens” and James Shaws’ “Blue-Greens” could become a major source of friction in future, especially as the Greens try to define exactly what constitutes their base - disillusioned socialists or trendy Ponsonby types?
  40. The only thing of note that the Greens have done this year, other than spit the dummy when Donald Trump got elected, was to force the Labour Party to swallow its poison pill. Beyond that they’ve been pretty quiet (most parties have been this year) and this is probably the best thing to do.
  42. For now, the Greens don’t seem to be seeing any real changes in support, aside from the occasional back and forth trading of voters with Labour, which suggests they have a solid core of support that will ensure they maintain a voice (no matter how irritating and sanctimonious) in Parliament but they’re unlikely to form a government any time soon.
  44. However, with the faultlines shifting in politics to one beyond left and right, liberal or conservative, it’s not inconceivable that the Greens may yet replace Labour as the main “left” party, in spite of the Greens’ marked shift to the centre and Labour’s continued drift to the left.
  45. But that’s something for another year.
  47. New Zealand First: I read somewhere that Winston Peters has done more public meetings this year than every other politician in New Zealand combined. I’d believe it too.
  49. New Zealand First is a political party whose time has come - with more and more people across the western world rejecting globalisation, rejecting neoliberalism and rejecting mass immigration suddenly the things Winston Peters was saying 30 years ago are very relevant now, and he has the public on his side.
  51. Over the last two election cycles the demise of Labour has been New Zealand First’s gain - but more importantly than that, New Zealand First is the only ‘opposition’ party that has succeeded in doing any damage to National, or winning over any of the soft-right vote.
  53. Until John Key’s resignation, this looked to set Winston Peters up for the ‘kingmaker’ position he held in 1996 and 2005 - but John Key’s resignation in conjunction with the bland alternatives in the form of Bill Engish and Andrew Little mean that Winston Peters may be on track to be king, and finally be our first Maori Prime Minister.
  55. Releasing common sense (to borrow the slogan) policies regarding making driving a part of the curriculum, to a well-researched and costed tertiary education policy shows not only that the party isn’t a one-man band as it’s so often dismissed as being, but also that it’s a party capable of fresh thinking and exciting new policies that are relevant for today.
  57. After Trump and Brexit in 2016, all I can say about NZ First’s prospects in 2016 is... watch this space. It’s not a question of overtaking the Greens now, it’s a serious question of overtaking Labour.
  59. Maori Party: The Maori Party, despite how much I deplore their politics, have had a pretty good year, possibly their best in a long time.
  61. They know that the government can’t do much without them, and they’ve relished the opportunity to twist National’s arm whenever possible, demonstrating that they may in fact be the tail wagging the dog at this point in the Fifth National Government.
  63. The Maori Party have used their influence to completely distort National’s plans to reform the Resource Management Act, but including clauses relating to consulting Iwi leaders - and in doing so making the RMA more red tape rather than less.
  65. They’ve also had a hand in stopping John Key’s planned Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary in its tracks, which if not an achievement was certainly a good power play.
  67. One might not necessarily be a fan of Marama Fox and her ranting and raving ways, but right now she and her co-leader wield a lot of power and know how to use it.
  69. The question is will they still be here next year? Maori seats are notoriously difficult to predict...
  71. ACT: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t respect David Seymour. I’d have to stop short of agreeing with his rather nutty economic views, but as a politician he’s a damn clever one.
  73. Unlike previous incarnations of the ACT Party, who have treated the works of Hayek and Friedman the way Jehovah’s Witnesses treat Watchtower Magazine, Seymour has been smart enough to run only on issues that he knows the general public are on his side for, such as openly supporting Uber - and if that puts him at odds with National, even better for him.
  75. Turning down a Ministerial post to concentrate on passing his Dying With Dignity bill does send a message about his integrity (however much integrity an obvious National puppet can have) and put him on the forefront of a campaign for a controversial issue. With the socially conservative Bill English taking back the reigns of National, and Seymour’s obvious social libertarianism on display, he does have a slim opportunity to make ACT relevant again.
  77. Of course there are two risks: The first is that if he keeps biting the hand that feeds him, National won’t feed him any more (especially if he becomes a threat to them). The second is that ACT is very much a dead horse, and he can flog it all he wants, but there’s no guarantee it’s going to move.
  79. United Future: Peter Dunne is currently MIA. Presumably he’s off picking somewhere to retire - he knows this will be his last term, and United Future will soon disappear forever into history. Peter Dunne is Peter Finished.
  80. My Top 5 Politicians of 2016:
  82. I’ve thought long and hard about this, but I’ve not been able to find five New Zealand politicians in 2016 who have suitably impressed me. I’m leaving this section blank - better luck next year.
  83. International Politics:
  85. Frankly, this article should be wholly dedicated to international politics given the seismic shifts that have occurred this year. I’m afraid all I have time for is a quick Top 5 of who I consider the most impressive international politicians this year.
  87. 5. Enda Kenny [Ireland]: Irish politics is weird. Basically you have two parties who are exactly the same, but are considered rivals due to something that happened in the 1920s. The dominant of those two parties was Fianna Fail who ruled Ireland almost continuously until 2011 when they were booted out for doing something remarkably similar to what National is doing today in New Zealand. Long story short, Enda Kenny this year became the first Taoiseach from Fine Gael (the not-so-dominant party) to be elected to a second term in Irish history. That’s a pretty remarkable achievement, really.
  89. 4. Marine Le Pen [France]: The fall in support for the Socialist Party and lacklustre effort of Les Republicains (or whatever the UMP are called this week) means that the National Front leader is on track to potentially become France’s first female President - certainly the wave of anti-establishment, anti-EU and nationalistic sentiment washing over Europe plays right into her hands. The real question for her is whether or not she can successfully ‘detoxify’ the once Far Right party and move it away from its anti-Semitic roots or whether attempting to detoxify the National Front is like trying to polish a turd. Hopefully she can come up with a better campaign slogan than “#ImWithHer”...
  91. 3. Birgitta Jónsdóttir [Iceland]: Iceland is a funny little country in the North Atlantic with about the same populaton as Wellington, so you could be forgiven for not knowing who this is. She is the leader of the Icelandic Pirate Party who, following a number of scandals surrounding Iceland’s then-incumbent Prime Minister, spent around a year polling as the most popular party in Iceland, nearly forming the next government on the back of a wave of anti-establishment support. In the end her party won 10 seats, placing her third although nevertheless placing her in a potential “Kingmaker” position when it comes to the formation of the next Icelandic government (which has yet to be formed at the time of writing.)
  93. 2. Donald Trump [USA]: A year ago people thought I was mad because I predicted he would win the Republican nomination. Well, now he’s heading to the White House. Big League. And I for one will probably never tire of watching Clinton supporters cry and being able to say “I told you so.”
  95. 1. Nigel Farage [UK]: ... as if it was going to be anyone else? “Mr. Brexit” has completely changed the global political landscape, taking on the political class, the media and the establishment and winning. The political battlelines have now been redrawn as a fight between globalism and nationalism, thanks to him, and without him we probably wouldn’t have a President Trump. Love him or loathe him (I’m firmly in the former category), Nigel Farage has completely and utterly changed the world this year.
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