TV3 political editor Patrick Gower has named Prime Minister John Key as politician of the year.
Trans Tasman named him politician of the year last week too.
There could simply be no other. John Key was out on his own this year for one simple reason – he won.
Yes, the Prime Minister’s performance ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.
In fact, Key went from the crème-de-la-crème to the crème-de-la-crap at times.
But Key won. He got National across the line. It was an incredible victory. It defied the political gravity of a third-term and was against the odds of the campaign. . .
I am not sure that anyone except political tragics were particularly interested in the campaign.
To get that was far from easy for Key. The Dirty Politics scandal could have destroyed other campaigns and finished off other leaders.
The election campaign was weird. It was dark too. And it was incredibly brutal for all those involved.
There is no doubt that Dirty Politics knocked Key over at first – National lost control of its campaign.
Yet Key survived. He stood his ground. In the words of son Max, he “manned up”.
It was like Key absorbed all of the negativity directed at him, and then, like some kind of comic book character, spewed it all out again as some kind of positive force.
There was unpredictability everywhere: Whaledump, Rawshark, Winston, Colin, rappers, hacker(s), Dotcom, Eminem, Cortex and don’t forget Speargun.
National and Key’s defence was simple – they had a plan, and they stuck to it.
“The plan” is a grinding, relentless strategy based on simple messaging and a self-belief that the Key juggernaut can eventually ride out almost anything.
It has been proven time and time again, and this time was proven on the biggest stage (an entire election campaign) facing the greatest degree of difficulty (an entire book of scandal).
Helped in no small part by a dismal and divided opposition which wasn’t looking like a government in waiting.
Key’s politics this year was a potent combination of on the “macro” level, stubbornly sticking to strategy, and on the “micro” level, being what’s called a “clutch hitter” or “big game player” who rises to the occasion.
Key made big moves at a strategic level and stuck to them, and he made big calls in day-to-politics that worked for him too.
On the macro level, one part of the plan that worked well this year was Key’s semi-upfront declaration of his potential coalition partners at the start of the year.
Looking back, it really was a masterstroke – it gave voters a clear picture of how a National Government would work.
Key also gave himself the space with the decision about giving Colin Craig a electorate seat deal and even more space when it came to working with Winston Peters.
In the end, he ruled out a seat deal for Craig because he looked too crazy and wanted him at arms-length. It was a big call but a good call – imagine if Key had been apologising for Craig on the campaign trail as well as dealing with Dirty Politics.
With Winston, Key kept him at arms’ length. But by not ruling Peters out, he always kept himself in the game, it always looked like National could form a Government no matter how bad the polls got.
The PM had the courage and sense to let voters know what they would and would not get with a National-led government.
That provided another stark contrast with then-Labour leader David Cunliffe who stupidly copied Winston Peters’ line that he’d let the voters choose without giving them all the information they’d need to choose wisely.
Key’s and National’s strategy included a bedrock of policies tailored for the centre voter, and conservative political management. They then turbo-charged this with an overload of “Brand Key” marketing.
Key used these to keep his vice-like grip on the centre-ground, and if he has that – National wins. . .
But there was nothing certain about that win.
Steven Joyce’s recent admission that National was polling at 44 percent in the final week and might have needed Winston to govern shows just how different it could have been. . .
Gower’s other awards:
Runner-up politician of the year: Andrew Little.
Back-bencher Kelvin Davis.
Runner-up political non-politician: Kim Dotcom, Whale Oil and Nicky Hager.
Radio Live’s Duncan Garner lists the year’s political winners and losers:
1. JOHN KEY
For all the obvious reasons. He is still the PM and he is still widely popular according to the polls. He had the kitchen sink thrown at him and he almost won the election outright. He’ll have to watch it doesn’t go to his head.
2. ANDREW LITTLE
Couldn’t win a fight in a kindergarten but ends the year on top. His caucus didn’t want him, his party didn’t want him, his electorate didn’t want him. Yet he ends the year looking strong and competent as Labour’s new leader.
3. KELVIN DAVIS
He beat Hone Harawira and therefore beat Kim Dotcom – do I have to say anymore?
4. SUE BRADFORD
She knew Dotcom and Harawira were in an unholy alliance and she put her principles before it all. She called it right – she has values and principles that are beyond reproach whether you agree with her politics or not.
5. CAM SLATER – WHALEOIL.
Yes he’s a dirt-bag, muck-raking, scum-bag attack blogger, but he likes it that way. He doesn’t play by any rule book yet he’s been judged a journalist by the courts. Despite having his dirty laundry aired for the world to see he remains talked about, his blog gets more hits than ever, he breaks stories and the PM returns his texts. Oh and he wins mainstream media awards.
(Close mention: Paula Bennett, now talked about as the next National Party Leader)
His losers are:
1. KIM DOTCOM
Threw millions at trying to rig an election, but the public weren’t fooled. He’s now fighting to stay out of jail. Rest my case.
2. HONE HARAWIRA
He picked the wrong rich friends. Should have stayed poor. At least he’d still be in Parliament. Woeful judgement.
3. LAILA HARRE
4. JUDITH COLLINS
Was on track to be the next National Party Leader – now she’s struggling to be heard from the backbenchers. Huge fall from grace. Career in tatters.
5. DAVID CUNLIFFE
Came across as a fake and then apologised for being a man. Do we have to say anything more? Awful defeat.
(Close mention: Grant Robertson, rejected twice as Labour’s future leader. That will hurt and in politics if winning if everything, Robertson has twice failed. Ouch. Still, he has huge chance to recover well.)