Will Key and National continue to sail serenely above turmoil?
New Zealand’s political parties find themselves in vastly different positions as they go into the 2016 political year, the middle one of the three-year cycle and a year where major changes are often made in the belief voters will have forgotten about them by the time they get to vote.
With his polls barely faltering despite some embarrassing personal mis-steps, John Key goes into the year as strong as ever. There are no signs yet of any succession policy and it looks, at least now, that Key will attempt what was previously thought unattainable in the MMP era, a fourth term as Prime Minister.
Backed by Bill English, whom Patrick Gower of 3 News aptly described as the Conrad Smith of New Zealand politics — like the All Black a reliable, safe pair of hands — Key and the National Party seem to be able to sail serenely on above the turmoil.
No such luck for Labour’s Andrew Little. Despite being given credit for assiduously working to rebuild Labour and a powerful speech at the party’s annual conference, he stays no further ahead in the polls than David Shearer was.
The Greens also seem to be treading water, especially as the new co-leader James Shaw works to establish himself. While they will still be disappointed about the last election, at least they have achieved some stability.
Considered by many to have been the politician of the year in 2015, Winston Peters is now 70 — joining a large part of his constituency. There is no official sign of a succession policy with NZ First, barring the assension of Ron Mark to the deputy role — though former Labour MP Shane Jones is touted as a possibility.
The other one-man party, Colin Craig’s Conservatives, seems to have sunk beneath the waves.
Two key allies of the National- led Government, the Maori Party and ACT, both find themselves on shaky ground creating a possible weakness on Key’s flanks.
However politics has an inherent way of confounding the pundits. Look for some surprises and at least a couple of crises developing in the year ahead, otherwise it would be boring.