Watkins on the parties

looks at the parties in 2015:

Because the Government ends the year as it began, ploughing through turbulence, controversy and crisis to emerge battle scarred and worn, but with its bow still riding high, according to the latest polls.

This truly is the Houdini government.

There are signs that Prime Minister John Key’s star is waning, but from such dizzy heights there’s a way for it to fall yet before National will start to panic.

But it’s not been a bad year for Labour either, all things considered.

There was no great honeymoon for Labour leader Andrew Little, but then again, there were no great disasters either.

This was a year of consolidation and solidity – the caucus looks united, there have been some standout performances, and Little has stamped out the dysfunction and backbiting that were the hallmark of recent years.

He deserves far more kudos for that than he has received so far.

So solid years for the two big ones.

Peters was the standout, rocking the political landscape with his Northland by-election win and, in the process, giving NZ First a fresh purpose as the voice for the “forgotten” provinces in heartland New Zealand.

But more significant than the win was the fact that Peters also changed the political landscape by robbing National of its margin of error on Parliamentary votes.

A good year for Winston.

Meanwhile, UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne reinvented himself as the coalition Government’s conscience and caused National just enough of a headache to free himself of the ‘poodle” tag.

Dare I say it,  Dunne may even be the new cool.

ACT leader David Seymour is another revelation, combining quirkiness, eccentricity and independent thought in equal measure, though it is still hard to look past the young fogey-ishness.

But he has done more to bring ACT back to its founding Liberal Party roots than some of his more recent predecessors.

The Maori Party has floundered with the loss of its twin pillars of strength, Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples, but despite all that new co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell has probably achieved far more behind the scenes in his Maori Affairs portfolio than Dr Sharples.

New face Marama Fox has bought a refreshing sassiness to the party, and will likely outshine her co-leader Flavell on the campaign trail.

And the party has wrung important concessions from National, which it will remind voters about in 2017.

The three small parties all have had good years, partly thanks to Winston making them all more important.

As for the Greens, who sit uncomfortably between big party and minor party status, this has been a year of soul searching after a disappointing election result and the loss of co-leader Russel Norman. More ripples from installing outsider James Shaw over old hands like Kevin Hague and Gareth Hughes may yet be felt when MPs consider their futures ahead of the next election.

But Shaw has already made some canny moves that suggest he was the right choice to de-tune some of the messages that were scaring off potential voters. Metiria Turei has been just bolshie enough to suggest she too has heard the speculation about a push for change in the female co-leadership.

The Greens don’t look able to get significantly past that 10% barrier and even if there is a change of Government, it is almost inevitable Winston would lock them out of Cabinet.

As for Colin Craig, he looks to have delivered his Conservative Party a death blow. There is no way back from the scandal, intrigue and bizarre allegations surrounding Craig this year.

I can’t see it, but mind you the same was once said about ACT.

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