Some of his victims never saw it coming.
Some succumbed because there was no point in putting up a
fight. Some - like Peter Dunne - pleaded innocence or argued
their time was not up.
But the 2013 political year has turned out to be the Year of
the Grim Reaper.
That was sadly the case with the death long before his time
of Parekura Horomia, whose image in much of the Pakeha world
as a bumbling and impossible to comprehend Maori Affairs
Minister could not have been more inaccurate.
Fortunately, the Grim Reaper only struck figuratively after
that. But the toll was heavy when it came to wrecking careers
or setting them back with little or no hope of recovery.
The list of this year's losers reads thus: the dumping of two
National Cabinet ministers; the resignation of one leader of
the Opposition and leader of the Labour Party; the effective
ousting of one co-leader of one of the Government's support
partners; ministerial resignations by the leaders of
National's two other support partners; and the pending loss
by one of his party's leadership next year and his standing
down as a candidate at next year's election.
Seven of National's 59 MPs are so far quitting Parliament at
the next election. They have been smart enough to read the
writing on the wall that says they are unlikely to get
promotion regardless of whether National wins. Whether
through appointment to some government board or other agency,
they will be rewarded for putting the party first and
avoiding giving the leader backbencher indigestion as he
tries to find meaningful jobs for everyone.
At least two National electorate-based MPs are facing serious
challenges to holding their seats.
Things are more tranquil on Labour's side of the
parliamentary chamber, partly because there are high
expectations inside caucus of getting a highly-ranked job if
the party wins the election. Two MPs are going or have gone.
Several others have been given the ''You would be wise to
quit because you are not going anywhere'' message through
demotion down the rankings.
A party's leadership is only immune for so long no matter how
well it performs. Witness Pita Sharples' resignation as Maori
Party co-leader. This year saw a semi-changing of the guard
in New Zealand politics that had a major bearing on who takes
out the title of Politician of the Year.
National did not have a bad year. The party's support in the
polls remains at amazing levels - as does Mr Key's personal
rating as preferred prime minister.
Mr Key, however, continued to be dogged by his handling of
intelligence-related matters. No sooner had he finally put to
bed new legislation covering the powers and responsibilities
of the Security Intelligence Service and the Government
Communications Security Bureau, than he was blindsided by the
leaking of sensitive material in the US that raised serious
questions about the level of monitoring being conducted by
the American spy agencies and, crucially, New Zealand's
connection to that activity through intelligence-sharing
Because he is hamstrung by the convention that the
operational activities of the two New Zealand intelligence
agencies remain strictly confidential - or says he is - he
can only give ''Trust me'' assurances those agencies abide by
The problem is the Kim Dotcom case and the subsequent
Kitteridge report into the workings of the GCSB have largely
neutered that defence.
It is Mr Key's good fortune, however, that the raking over of
such matters is peripheral to most people's lives.
It is the equation that has the rate of economic growth on
one side and the degree to which the Reserve Bank raises
interest rates that will have an exponential-size impact on
National's fortunes at the ballot box.
National's ability to have an influence on that equation is
limited pretty much to the kind of fiscal policy it runs and
whether it will hit its target of being back in surplus
during the 2014-15 financial year. We will know more next
Tuesday when Bill English presents the half-year fiscal
update. If he meets the target - and at the same time
presides over a reasonable period of sustained economic
growth - that would make him a strong candidate for
Politician of the Year. But not yet.
The wider Labour Party shift to the Left has been to the huge
advantage of the man who has to be judged the Politician of
the Year if only by virtue of him seeing off other
challengers to gain the prestige of leading one of the two
Since taking over from David Shearer, David Cunliffe has not
put a foot wrong - at least in a strategic sense.
An almost evangelical speech spelling out his attachment to
traditional Labour principles was followed by what David
Parker, Mr Cunliffe's deputy, describes as a ''stonking''
by-election victory in Christchurch East.
Labour secured a far bigger majority than was expected by
focusing its campaign tightly around local issues, holding a
multitude of street-corner meetings and strenuous efforts to
get identified Labour voters to the polling booths.
Mr Cunliffe now has to somehow adapt those techniques to a
national stage, lift his preferred prime minister ratings and
raise Labour's share of the vote.
Somehow he has to do what Labour's two previous leaders
failed to do: rebuild voter trust in Labour and then
personify that trust in the manner Mr Key has done so
naturally and successfully for National. No easy task.
- John Armstrong is The New Zealand Herald political