Thoughtful Workhorse: For doing most of this government's heavy lifting and for thinking about the half of the electorate who doesn’t vote for the National Party, my Politician of the Year for 2015 is – Bill English.
CHRISTMAS LOOMS, and political columnists – like everyone else – are looking forward to enjoying another festive season in the sun. Before we head off to the beaches and the barbecues, however, one last chore remains. As the Old Year hobbles towards the wings of the political stage, our own grandiloquently judgemental subset of the journalistic profession feels obliged to nominate a Politician of the Year.
It’s tempting to award the prize – again – to John Key. Because, pony-tails and off-colour stunts aside, our Prime Minister remains a phenomenon. Eight years into his prime-ministership, Key’s extraordinary popularity with the voters remains undiminished. This, alone, would be sufficient to conjure-up words like unusual, uncanny and unprecedented. But, when you add to the PM’s bullet-proof popularity, the enduring popularity of his government, then words begin to fail even those of us who use them for a living.
Quite simply, this National Party-led Government has no peer in post-war history. Not even the long, languid summer of the Holyoake Years (1960-1972) can offer New Zealanders a valid comparison. In those First-Past-The-Post days there was a fair bit of give in our electoral system. In 1966, for example, National’s vote dropped 3.5 percentage points to an historically low 43.6 percent, and yet “Kiwi Keith” retained power with a majority of 8 seats.
A decline of that magnitude under MMP would, almost certainly, be fatal. And yet, in spite of the Opposition parties’ fondest hopes, ‘decline’ is not something that John Key’s numbers have, so far, been willing to do.
He won office in 2008 with a very creditable 45 percent of the Party Vote (the highest ever secured under MMP up until that time). In 2011, when all the pundits were expecting a falling away of popular support, National’s Party Vote improbably rose to 47 percent.
Now, 47 percent would have been highly respectable result even under FPP. In the context of New Zealand’s proportional electoral system, however, it was utterly astounding. So when, on Election Night 2014, it looked as though National may have lifted its Party Vote, again – this time to 48 percent! – people began muttering about political witchcraft.
But it is not the Devil that John Key has made a pact with, it is that part of the New Zealand electorate that enjoys secure and relatively well-remunerated employment; a stable family environment (including a home whose value continues to scale new heights of implausibility) and which, if pressed, will admit to living a life of considerable material comfort.
“Winners” is such an ugly word, but that is how these folk would, by and large, define themselves. And while they’d be reluctant to admit that their success is attributable to anything but their own hard work and talent, they’re more than willing to acknowledge that John Key and National have done nothing to hinder their advancement.
To celebrate the absence of a negative is hardly the most positive of political expressions. But, for as long as it delivers National around 50 percent of the Party Vote – they’ll take it.
What makes me reluctant to award the accolade of Politician of the Year to John Key, however, is his apparent lack of interest in the lives of the 50 percent of New Zealanders who don’t vote for the National Party, and for whom John Key is not the Preferred Prime Minister. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that true political greatness is to be measured by what a politician (and government) does: not only for the lucky and the strong, but also for the weak and unfortunate.
Now, at this point you may be thinking that I’m about to bestow the accolade upon someone from the Opposition’s ranks. You would, however, be wrong. Because 2015 has not been a year in which anyone from the Opposition parties has offered the weak and the unfortunate very much at all – not even that most subversive of emotions: Hope.
No, the politician I have in mind is the one who labours away in the engine-room of Key’s Government. The one who keeps the wheels of the economy turning, and international investors smiling.
Solid achievements, both, but I am more disposed towards him because, unlike his boss, he has been giving long and arduous thought to the plight of the weak and unfortunate among us. More than this, he has been thinking about them in a new and intellectually challenging fashion.
His approach has been called actuarial, because his calculations are all about the risk and the cost – both individually and collectively – of not making the weak stronger and their misfortunes less determinative; of not organising the right sort of state intervention at the right time.
For thinking about the half of the electorate who doesn’t vote for his party, my Politician of the Year for 2015 is – Bill English.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 22 December 2015.
Bill English is deep in the racist divide in this country that is continuing with a grab for water in the new year. Somehow he has been brainwashed into thinking that separate governance or co-governance where unelected Maori get to make decisions in a direct attack on democracy is somehow a good thing to do. It isn't. The real shame is that there is no alternative party to vote for. Labour want the Maori seats and are prepared to do anything, sacrifice almost any principle they have to achieve that. The Greens are happy to give anything away to Maori and Winston it turns out has a deputy who is in secret negotiations with a local iwi to give them water rights. There is little that Bill English can do that will have such a profound and long term effect on the future of this country as the racial divide that he is helping to promote. Definitely NOT the politican of the year.
Hmmm. It might be nice if you let us know what you think his actual achievements are.
And you are sating not at the behest of Key?!!
What a surprise but what a great choice, Bill English wiped the floor of the opposition parties with his $500 Million grant to the "children and families' in the 2014 budget.
The Green, NZ first and Labour parties still bluster or stay deathly quiet when the 2014 budget by English is raised as a political talking point.
Bill English was finished in 2002 when he lost the election with just 21 % of the vote. John Key bought him back in 2006 as Deputy which at the time bought Keys people managementship into question. English's partnership with Key has been outstanding
Andrew Little's and the ABC's humiliation of David Cunliffe 2015 is in direct contrast to John Keys and National brilliance in 2006. 2006 was inspirational, 2015 was treachery.
Chris I fully endorse your choice and say it was unbiased, fair and justified, well done, a good post.
Seasons greetings to you and your family and many thanks for writing the best blog in the country, bar none.
At last 'official' count 47% appear John Key supporters. Hardly riveting news. That percentage will ultimately crash in similar fashion as it appeared.
Bill English is Catholic in his approach to politics, a major reason he never became PM. I agree though he has performed well and would make a far better PM than the fake we the 53% have had to put up with for the last eight years.
I am sure he thinks about them. I am sure he wishes they would go away.
The disaffected,struggling,impecunious provide friction that impedes the full realisation of the Chicago neo con(hehe) perpetual motion dream machine.
Kat and KDS is alive and well.
To Chris T. You and I will agree to disagree on many things but yours is the only blog on the 'left' that I bother to read. Your postings thought provoking but, more importantly (to me anyway), are without cant or rancor. To you and yours all the best for the festive season.
As The Veteran says ...dont always agree but the reasoning is always there ,,,best of the season to you and look forward to your thoughts in the new year...and to all
Karen Hay has an interview with Michael Reddell on Radio Live. When noted that the PM has been presented with Reddell's economic analysis John Key's response has been one of "disinterest".
He can maintain "disinterest" because individuals who control the message (National Radio/TV One) serve their own interests and keep the public in the dark.
Interesting piece, Chris.
I must say that, although I certainly don't hope for a fourth term National-led government, if it nevertheless happens, I'd vastly prefer it to be led by Bill English than any of the other characters touted as replacements for Key, e.g. Stephen Joyce, the vastly over-hyped Paula Bennett or, Lord help us, Crusher.
Long term, it seems to me that Amy Adams is the most impressive potential leader in National's ranks. But she's yet to be tested and might prove a damp squib.
Meanwhile, thanks for another year of stimulating comment.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours.
Focussing on National's percentage of the party vote rather overlooks their cannibalisation of their coalition partners.
I agree with Jigsaw (23 December 2015 at 15:51).
No Chris, he is a John Key puppet. I used to think he was good, but he just falls in line with his socialist leader. National have gone super left under Key and English, perhaps even more left than Labour. What kind of a conservative party is that? They threw in the right wing towel long ago. Key is a traitor to true blue Nats and English just seems to be weak.
Yes, Anonymous 28 December 2015 at 21:42, I think it is NINO - ie National In Name Only.
There is something about Xmas that brings out the nuts! Anon 21.42: I want what you're smoking mate! "National have gone super left", dang, that made me fall out of my chair I was laughing so hard! I am assuming that you are a very funny man!
If you are serious then it's obvious that you don't know what the "Left" is and I am not wasting my valuable time explaining it to you. I smell a troll! Barry; you should know better too.
Bill English has as much charisma as Grandma's Lye Soup!
Winston Peters should be pollie of the year - he stands up for common sense, stands up to the leftie media and gives as good as he gets in the House. He is not for separatism, and he is not a John Key fanboy. What a relief.
Worst politician of the year? How about the rest of them, a bunch of sheep. Don Brash was our best bet, and he was metaphorically trampled. Look at the state of NZ now - an utter socialist mess.
Chris...National’s Party Vote improbably rose to 47 percent.
I suspect partly because the pure unadulterated venom coming from the Left during the lead up to the election actually drove swing voters into the arms of National.
To quote Aussie Crawl: She don't like that kind of behaviour!
It's people like Bushbaptist who make this site such a waste of time. Rather than debating anything they just accuse everyone else of having a different prespective (and obviously wrong!)as its not the same as yours '...it's obvious you don't know what the left is and I'm not wasting my valuable time....' -obviously your fantastic expertise is wasted on this site and you should be replacing someone important where you opinions would be valued - get your own blog perhaps ..... The left is where we individually think it is - you are entitled to your view as much as Anon 21:42 is to theirs.
Anonymous 29 December 2015 at 19:47, I think Don Brash was the last chance NZ had to ever make any sense again.
curious you should nominate Bill English as politician of the year when one considers his primary role is the management of the economy and government finances....a 105 billion deficit, essentially 7 years of red ink, a debilitating underfunding of the public services, an increase in poverty levels , a housing crisis which is negatively impacting all aspects of the economy and rising unemployment.
Is that all really over.ridden by research for a white paper unpublished and yet to be analysed?
Bill English is a catholic socialist, a conservative very much in the Muldoon or even Helen Clark of respect for the befuddled ordinary mans opinion and pretty much a slave of that unexciting ordinary man.
Bill English was of course the major force behind the massive dairy conversions of 2009-11 and kept the money flowing so all and sundry could get on the land to create more dairy herds, pollution and dependence on China. English rejected the tourist economy in 2010 as unlikely to create long term high paying jobs. Has dairy. Has any viable industry for mass employment. Tourism bring us and our youth and graduates into contact with the world and requires world class presentation and management. Meanwhile English with full backing of the National cabinet has progressively lowered standards so everyone passes at school and effectively no one is selected for challenging technical trades or academic courses because any realistic selection would mean the immediate failure of 50 % of white kiwi males and National policy is respect and listen and follow those ordinary man- focus groups. Dictatorship of the proletariat in other words. National would rather all skilled tradesman were Irish, Polish or Phillipines temporary workers, than actually reject a National voters offspring from an apprenticeship programme.
Boy oh boy Jigsaw I trod in a raw nerve there! Lovely!
The Left is not an opinion at all, it is a series of policies that differ from the Right wing. Many Rightie wingnuts here say that Helen was a "Leftie" (she wasn't), that the Greens are rabid Lefties (they're not) and so on. Helen was a slightly more compassionate conservative that John Key is but a conservative all the same.
I assume that you are old enough to remember Norm Kirk's Govt. His was a Left Wing Govt. Perhaps you can even remember Walter Nash's Govt? His was a Left wing Govt too. Both of those were completely different from for the 'So Called' Lefties of today.
We have never had another Left wing Govt. since Norm Kirk. So those who say otherwise need to go and learn just what the terms mean politically!
"It's people like Bushbaptist who make this site such a waste of time. "
Jigsaw. When I think of some of the invective which you have thrown at me rather than at my ideas I must say – the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in your brain at the same time is awesome.
Just from this page: "seems that world is divided for you Gorilla Sturgeon "sic" but then that's to be expected with your ego I guess" and: "your left wing nastiness "
Not to mention just from memory, words like "spew" "vile" "bitter"
I'll say one thing, your post shows that you must carry your balls around in a wheelbarrow. The very nerve. :)
Robert, only one job in the tourism industry reaches the top 100 for pay. And that is "event planner" whatever the fuck that is. So yeah, English is probably correct about tourism.
I haved had the pleasure of sitting at the same table when The Rt.Hon. Bill English was the Leader of the Opposition. He is a "southern man" ' like I am. He carries a dignity of shyness and genteel reserve , which belies his leadership in New Zealand Politics.
I consider the TPPA will be seen as a " dark rider " by the next generation as is the Employment Contracts Act 1991 which is accepted with " quiet desperation " by the working families of " God's Own " today. Be advised that the NZ Government debt has soared like a mortar since
2008, and be reminded Mr/Ms Reader that the Asset Sales have been a dissapointment . The deafening silence and the ( and I quote ) " ...the response of New Zealand's ' Haves ' to the plight of it's ' Have Nots ' was as thin as the soup dispensed from the charitable kitchens
this past Christmas where " the city missions " had queues lining from around the corner . The GFC. certainly was a challenge, and I acknowledge that the country had a steady set of hands in In Bill. Our waterways are declining in quality , and home ownership in Auckland is now beyond the reach of the average Kiwi.
I do concurr with the Author on his recommendation for the Politician of the year 2015.
I just wonder how Bill manages to temper that " small platoon of Devils Incarnate " inside the National Caucus and how he does not feature like Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, characteristically seen in photos with a sore upon his lip.
I would suggest he carries some key frustrations when he sits with the Prime Minister on the nineth floor and then walks down to the House before the bells stop ringing.
The Rt. Hon. bill Englsih is as I wrote before is a Leader. He Is epitome of a consummate " 2IC ".
Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition might take a page out of his opponents copy-book and follow suit this year , otherwise there will be ' No Left Turn '.
Post a Comment