So what's 2013 been all about and where does it leave us? Here's my take... and Christmas wishes
Is that all there is, Peggy Lee once asked. Is that 2013 finally done and dusted? Phew. Although I'm not sure if anyone in the political world feels like dancing quite yet – the year has ended in a left-right stalemate that leaves everything to play for next year.
We've updated Pundit's poll of polls one last time for the year and there's a sliiight swing back to the right. All in all, it leaves the polls much where they began the year; a result that has something for everyone. Most notably, the National v Labour/Greens contest is neck-and-neck – 45.1 v 45.2. It really is as close as it gets.
National remains unnaturally high (spot the legal highs pun there) for a government charging towards a potential third term, especially given its patchy political management this year. What it lacks in friends it's trying to make up for in popular leadership.
Labour on the other hand saw off a serious mid-year slide with a change of leader and steadied the ship, leaving it poised for decent run at the election next year; it'll just be a little disappointed it hasn't done more with the momentum built by David Cunliffe's election.
The Greens have not matched last year's performance; it's not simply the removal of Shearer that has seen the words "Russel Norman" and "real leader of the Opposition" used less in the same sentence. But neither has it been a bad year with spies, mines and oil fields to kick against and 12 percent is a very solid place to begin an election year.
ACT and United Future are more munted than ever (UF literally registering zip), but their political reality is exactly what it was in 2011. If National deigns to gift them a seat, they will survive with a single MP. If not, they won't. It's that simple. What's changed is that, on one hand they are riskier propositions and damaged goods. On the other, National may need them more than ever.
The oft-forgotten Maori Party remains precariously placed on barely more than one percent. But as we know, it's where that one percent lives that's crucial and if it can retain two seats it remains a power-broker; maybe even THE power-broker. It got a new leader installed this year in Te Ururoa Flavell and it's now largely his job to stop it becoming a one seat party. Mana? Who knows, Harawira's never around. Although the attention given to his electorate may be the smartest thing given it's his only way back; his survival is by no means a sure thing.
If anyone is going to break out the booze and have a ball, it's Winston Peters and Colin Craig. Those two are both very well positioned to launch strong campaigns next year, with New Zealand First on a healthy 4.3 percent and the Conservatives featuring on 1.9. Crucially, with Key openly talking about a seat deal centre-right voters looking for a third-term National government now have a reason to vote Conservative. Then again, Peters and Craig (is it just coincidence that they both have first-names as surnames? Do we need more evidence before commenting?) only need to look across at each other and then down at the size of the sandpit they're fighting over to have the air taken out of their balloons.
Put it all together and you've got every party with everything to play for. No-one can feel safe or satisfied. Which is good for us observers, but means a potentially edgy Christmas break for them.
I'm not going to play the politician of the year game this time out. I see the likes of the Herald and TV3 have plumped for Bill English, and I get why. Next year so much comes down to the trust voters have in National's economic management and the fact it can point to some pretty enviable economic figures and upcoming growth that betters just about every other country on the planet is in large part due to English's stewardship.
But... there are some big buts. It also in large part stems from the Christchurch rebuild and the political good fortune of terrible misfortune. It also stems from high commodity prices. And on the flipside figures around youth unemployment and child poverty, for example, remain stubbornly awful. And just as frankly, the government's flagship economic policy for the year, the partial state asset sales, has been a disaster tantamount to economic vandalism. While English will next year get credit for hitting his surplus promise, this year he ends having failed on his $5-7 billion profit almost-promise.
So I just can't seriously call him politician of the year. Key's defying of poll gravity is impressive, but he's been out of the country a lot and his performance this year has been his worst as Prime Minister thus far. Cunliffe came back from the dead and looked the real deal in phase one, but then stuttered to launch phase two. Colin Craig? Well, he's done the business for his party, but his story is still all about potential. Nothing has been achieved yet.
You'd be tempted to give it to Peters, simply by the process of elimination. As others have fallen, he's navigated the course like the old pro he is. And of course there's Louisa Wall, who managed the marriage equality bill through the House and achieved major social change without alienating voters. Remember when many of us were suggesting this bill could only hurt Labour by engaging it again in social politics when it should be focused on economics? Well, it may have hurt Shearer in the first half of the year (and t he boost it gave the Conservatives may be something the left lives to rue), but Labour got a win and looked decent in doing it, which was no mean feat.
Still, neither seem to quite reach the mark for the whole year, so I'm just not going there.
Instead, I've got my three political moments of the year. For the right, it's Key opening the door to Craig. This is a game-changer on that side of the House and a clear sign that Key knows how tenuous his hold on the ninth floor is. For the man who came to power warning of a "five-headed monster" on the left, it's hardly a sign of strength that he's now openly contemplating the need for his own fifth head.
Look back to 2008 and Key literally spoke of a monster to scare voters – a five headed beast "cobbled together with all sorts of different parties" with "competing interests". He said it would not be in the best interests of New Zealand during a period of "difficult economic times to manage". You can expect that line to be used against him next year. But the Conservatives could be the difference between two and three terms, and his public recognition of that changes strategies across the board.
On the left, Labour ran our first primary style leadership contest, energised the party and got a new leader. That's certainly the political moment of the year for the left. Labour and the Greens had spent a year trading voters and going nowhere in the polls; Cunliffe broke that cycle and got Labour back to 33, the very least it needs to be at to be given a chance next year. He's stalled in recent months and made some sloppy errors, so will need to lift his game. Having played to the left now to secure his position, expect Cunliffe to tack back to the centre in the new year; it was a primary after all! Perhaps the most encouraging thing of all was that the leadership contest – open and lively and engaging of the public – was a success.
And the final political moment of the year? The one for the whole country? The marriage equality bill. Rare it is to see the reform of something as fundamental to our society as marriage; rarer still that it should be forced through by Opppostion parties. It's real, substantial change. And it was done in that wonderfully New Zealand way. The revolution didn't come with violence, or even bitter protests. We simply got to the point in time when the "mainstream" shrugged and thought it probably wasn't such a bad thing. She'll be right, we thought, and we got the job done. It's only a fair go, right? Lovely.
And that's my lot. Thanks to all the contributors here for their wise and provocative words this year, especially Andrew and his posts that just keep on coming, keep on telling you things you didn't know and keep on making you think. And thanks to you for stopping by, for challenging us and spending some time with our ideas.
We'll look to refresh things a little in the new year and rev up for the election. Merry Christmas to one and all. Now let's break out the booze and do a little dancing at least.