NZ politics in 2020: we pick the champs and the flops

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Every year since the distant past (2016) the Spinoff has assembled a pantheon of politics watchers to appraise the 12 months past and cast a gaze ahead at those to come. To kick us off in a year of Covid and voting, the champs and the flops of 2020. 

Alex Braae

Champs

  1. Mark Ball
    Easily one of the best unheralded individual performances in the election, Ball won a whopping 8,642 candidate votes in Port Waikato, dwarfing the party votes that went to his Heartland party, who came dead last. 
  2. Geoff Simmons
    It might seem absurd to nominate the leader of a party that only got 1.5%. But pre-campaign polls had the Opportunities Party on 0.1%, and Simmons successfully made the case to tens of thousands of people that they should vote with their conscience, even in what was always likely to be a losing cause. 
  3. Every single person who helped organise an election meeting.
    These people are heroes of democracy, and we are lucky to have them.  

Flops

  1. Jami-Lee Ross
    His Advance NZ co-leader Billy Te Kahika was tasked with bringing in big crowds, and he did his job. Ross’s role was to bring legitimacy and institutional strength to their fledgling movement, and on this he totally failed. 
  2. Gerry Brownlee
    His whole “just asking questions” moment appeared to cause a lot of voters to just ask questions about whether National was ready to govern again. 
  3. Vision NZ
    Huge publicity was given to the party led by Hannah Tamaki, and yet they only won half the votes of the much more obscure One Party in the space around conservative Christianity. 

Linda Clark

Champs

  1. The NZ body politic
    Because, for all our faults and disagreements, New Zealanders still actually believe in the power of community, the good sense of working with and for one another and the value of science. If this year has proved anything it’s that “loving thy neighbour” saves lives.
  2. Jacinda Ardern
    Winning an absolute majority under MMP is something that just shouldn’t happen. This should put an end once and for all to those critics who have consistently underestimated the PM’s abilities.
  3. Rawiri Waititi
    When the whole country turned red he bested the Labour candidate to win the Waiariki electorate and breathe life back into the Māori Party.

Flops

  1. National’s caucus
    As Sir John Key said people don’t and won’t vote for parties that are more interested in themselves than in voters. A lesson this caucus seemed slow to learn.
  2. Every politician, lobbyist, broadcaster, talkback caller or fool who said we should follow Sweden
    The country saw 6000 Covid cases in a single day last week and hospitalisations are rising faster than anywhere else in Europe. It is currently considering asking neighbouring Finland to help it provide ICU care.
  3. Phil Twyford
    Once a Labour high flyer his name is now forever linked with policy failure.

Andrew Geddis

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern
    If steering the country through its Covid-19 response and getting rewarded with the mythic unicorn of a majority government under an MMP voting system doesn’t get you the top ranking, then nothing ever will.
  2. Rawiri Waititi
    For bringing the Māori Party back into parliament, and the Māori Party for sending Debbie Ngarewa-Packer there with him.
  3. Act and the Greens
    One proved that a small party sticking to its core messages can get rewarded, the other proved that a small party can ​serve in government and survive.

Flops

  1. The National Party
    25.6% and “three more years”.
  2. The “yes” campaign in the cannabis referendum
    A once-in-a-generation chance for societal change lost.
  3. Jami-Lee Ross
    When you come for the king, you best not get charged by the Serious Fraud Office.

Lara Greaves

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern and cabinet
    For their decisive, evidence-based action on Covid-19.
  2. The Māori Party
    Especially Rawiri Waititi, for returning to parliament and bucking the trend towards Labour across the country.
  3. Māori media
    The Hui, Māori TV – across the campaign they showed how debates should be done. In 2023, there needs to be a Māori-focused, Māori-hosted leader debate. 

Flops

  1. Gerry Brownlee
    For his work as campaign chair, losing Ilam, and seeding misinformation and doubt.
  2. David Clark
    Has to be high on anyone’s list. As health minister it was clear from the start that he was not central to the Covid-19 response, and it all went downhill (literally, on a bicycle) from there.
  3. Advance NZ, New Conservatives, and the fragmented right
    There’s potential, especially with the downfall of NZ First, for there to be a right-wing populist movement in Aotearoa, but this side couldn’t get it together in 2020.

Leonie Hayden

Champs

  1. The Māori Party
    They had a clear mandate, they were unapologetic and I think they ran the best campaign out of all the minor parties. Two seats in parliament is a remarkable achievement coming from virtual obscurity.
  2. Chlöe Swarbrick
    She fought hard against the laissez faire attitude that it was a “given” Labour would win her electorate no matter what. She beat opponents who tried to exploit that because she knew her constituency inside and out, and trusted she deserved the seat. It was impressive watching her fight for that.
  3. Gone by Lunchtime
    Look, for most of us politics isn’t that fun. The GBL podcast team helped me understand what politics is, and should be under Te Tiriti, in a way that no other commentators did. And it cracks me up. The perfect balance of mean and compassionate, smart and silly, accessible and wonkish. 

Flops

  1. The cannabis “yes” campaign
    So many lost opportunities to reach the thousands of people on the fence who could have been moved with a gentle breeze! Poor planning and execution.
  2. Advance Party
    Clueless opportunists and manipulators. I’m delighted they flopped, it’s one of the few things that has made me feel patriotic in 2020.
  3. Judith Collins’ jokes

Brownyn Hayward

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern / The Māori Party
    While I join those expressing concern that we are not being ambitious or transformative enough as a nation on key policy issues I also can’t imagine where NZ would have been without Ardern’s leadership (especially through Covid) nor can I imagine what it is like to find yourself at the centre of so many expectations and so much anxiety, anger and fear and just keep on keeping on. Ardern’s philosophy of kindness may get fair criticism but both her vision and the Māori Party’s determined clear advocacy of indigenous solutions are beginning to make differing but far reaching differences in dominant political narratives. 
  2. Ashley Bloomfield
  3. Make it 16 campaign
    Despite Covid, their High Court case for lowering the vote in NZ has also begun to fundamentally change our political narratives. Like MMP, lowering the voting age is a transformative action that is overdue and it will help unlock many of our difficult intergenerational debates from housing prices and child poverty to climate change. It won’t fix the issues but the remarkable cross party politics campaign of make it 16 has started to expand our democratic imagination of what a more inclusive and equitable democracy might look like.

Flops

  1. National
    Of course I am a progressive, but over the years it’s also been my privilege to teach bright new conservative thinkers, yet the lack of integrity which was exposed this year in a series of National party fiascos and the failure to then embark on an inclusive, wholescale reform, has, in my view set the National party back a generation.
  2. & 3. US and UK
    The failure of Trump to exit with dignity from the Oval office and the Brexit and Covid shambles in the UK have forced something of an existential political crisis in both countries.

Liam Hehir

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern
    As she did the year before, gave New Zealand a masterclass in the political management of a crisis – and the country was better for it. 
  2. Chris Hipkins
    He has taken over from Kris Faafoi as minister for everything. Despite already having a full slate of work he took over the health portfolio from David Clark and the impact of his confidence and gravitas was felt immediately.
  3. The Labour Party
    It won the first absolute majority in parliament since New Zealand adopted MMP after running a very good campaign (albeit assisted by the circumstances).

Flops

  1. The National Party
    At the start of the year it was, against all odds, looking like it might win the election. Covid intervened but the party lost its nerve and didn’t listen to some good advice. Instead, it did everything it could to make a bad situation worse.  
  2. Trevor Mallard
    The year opened with him being sued by a parliamentary staffer who he falsely accused of being a rapist. It was the kind of matter defamation lawyers dream about (plus GST). The year ended with the matter being settled with an apology and the claimant being paid out via the public purse. 
  3. David Clark
    By all accounts a well-meaning bloke but, as health minister, missed his big opportunity to shine and instead made a series of ill-judged personal decisions that saw him out in the cold. Currently the minister for statistics.

Stephen Jacobi

Champs

  1. Jacinda Ardern
  2. Grant Robertson
  3. Ashley Bloomfield

Flops

  1. Jami-Lee Ross
  2. Billy TK
  3. NZ First

Annabelle Lee-Mather

Champs

  1. Māori Party
    An impressive come back against the odds
  2. Māori Labour caucus
    Their election campaign didn’t set the world on fire but they’ve quietly gone about their business and made some important gains.
  3. Shane Reti
    For achieving the impossible task of making National look like they have some sensible people in their ranks.

Flops

  1. Todd Muller
    No explanation required.
  2. The cannabis referendum result
    A non-mandate to keep filling our jails. The PM’s leadership was sorely missed on this issue.
  3. Billy Te Kahika and Jami-Lee Ross
    I’d explain but the less said the better.

Danyl Mclauchlan

Champs

  1. Judith Collins
    She achieved her penultimate ambition of becoming leader of the National Party. And her leadership appears secure, for now, because there are so few National MPs left to challenge her. Congratulations Judith!
  2. Winston Peters
    He has long compared himself to his namesake, Winston Churchil, and this year finally got to show the country what he was made of during a time of national crisis. And did so by plunging his government into chaos and spending the election campaign fighting the media and a Serious Fraud Office scandal.  
  3. All those “Plan B” epidemiologists and statisticians
    Who insisted that New Zealand’s lockdown approach to Covid would lead to disaster and urged us to immediately adopt the Swedish model. They’ve raised important questions about the credibility of credentialled experts and accountability in science and public commentary. 

Flops

  1. Jacinda Ardern
    So insanely successful, popular and triumphant that it’s become intellectually fashionable to talk about how terrible she is. 
  2. Grant Robertson
    Who got to print and spend tens of billions of dollars and still end the year with a reputation for fiscal conservatism. What’s a Labour finance minister got to do to get called reckless? 
  3. Jami-Lee Ross
    This one isn’t sarcastic. He is a gigantic loser. 

Laura O’Connell Rapira

Champs

  1. Rangi Mātāmua
    For his work to support the return of Mātauranga Māori and Matariki.  
  2. Toni Boynton and Te Rōpū Tautoko Māori
    For their mahi to support better Māori representation in local government.
  3. Carmen Parahi
    For her mahi to get Stuff to acknowledge and apologise for its racism.

Flops

  1. Taxpayers’ Union
    For taking (in my honest opinion) an inherently racist position in advocating against a law change on the establishment of Māori wards that would save councils hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  2. Hobson’s Pledge
    For being (in my honest opinion) inherently racist.
  3. That fulla from NZ Initiative
    For being (in my honest opinion) inherently racist.

Trish Sherson

Champs

  1. The team of 5 million
    Because we listened and did what we were told and now we’re allowed out for summer.
  2. Jacinda Ardern
    “Ardernism” is now an international standard in global politics.
  3. Conviction politicians
    Act Leader David Seymour, the Māori Party, Auckland Central Green MP, Chlöe Swarbrick, because they stand for something, they’re clear about what that is and they’re not afraid to go against what’s popular.

Flops

  1. Leadership coups
    And all those who sail in them.
  2. Middle-aged white men
    Over-represented in every major political cock-up this year.
  3. The yes campaign for the cannabis referendum
    An issue with logic and timing on its side that went up in smoke.





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