Year of missing out for English in a new age of politics

Bill English
Bill English
David Seymour made a stinging comment in his closing speech on the End of Life Choice Bill first reading debate - that Bill English's contribution had seemed from a different age.

Mr English unsurprisingly voted against the Bill. Jacinda Ardern voted in favour.

Mr English gave the best speech of the night but ended up on the losing side.

It has been the story of his year.

He deserves the award for Worthiest Loser of the Year, beating Te Ururoa Flavell who oversaw the demise of the Maori Party, and Mr Seymour himself, who took his party backwards.

Mr English made a better prime minister in his single year in the job than most thought he would, including his own party.

But he took too long to realise that people wanted to see the real Bill English rather than someone going through John Key's routine in a different-sized suit.

Mr English was a conviction politician for the poor and marginalised. Attempts to portray him as motivated by a desire to save money rather than souls never stuck because it was so patently untrue.

If he had earned his own mandate as prime minister in September, he may have felt more entitled to deviate from the same-old National approach and taken some risks.

But he and his colleagues are going through the ''if only'' period of post-election reflection - if only Steven Joyce hadn't insisted on tax cuts and it had gone to, say, a significant overhaul of mental health services.

In 2015, Mr English was our politician of the year for getting the Government's books back to surplus, for increasing social welfare benefits for the first time in 43 years, and for developing his social investment approach - devoting huge resources to tightly defined social problems.

Whether social investment is a lasting legacy is now out of his control but he certainly finishes the year with more respect than he started with.

If the criterion for politician of the year is someone who has had a profound impact on the fortunes of his or her own party, there are many contenders. Metiria Turei, Andrew Little and Winston Peters would all be contenders, alongside Jacinda Ardern.

Without the first three, Ms Ardern would not have had her spectacular rise to Prime Minister.

David Shearer and Annette King also played supporting roles.

Ms Ardern's win in the Mount Albert by-election after Mr Shearer's resignation was the catalyst for Mrs King to stand aside as deputy leader for Ms Ardern - both of which made her move to the leadership in August uncontentious.

There may be some regret by them, especially Mrs King, that they did not stick around long enough to become ministers in Ms Ardern's Government.

Ms Ardern leads a Government of disparate parts and from an executive of 31, only five have had previous ministerial experience.

Mrs King was the sort of politician whose judgement and experience cannot be imported and she would have been invaluable to Ms Ardern, when crises emerge.

Mrs King was also a role model to older working women. She is 2017's Most Missed MP.

Todd Barclay, on the other hand, is perhaps the least.

The former Clutha-Southland MP got himself into trouble, as many MPs do, but he made the mistake of following legal advice rather than doing what was right in dealing with it.

His decision to go to ground, and to refuse to discuss a complaint of recording his electorate secretary, even with the police, was wrong for someone who held public office.

He did not reckon on the perseverance of Newsroom journalist Melanie Reid to dig further,

forcing Bill English and the uncomfortable truth into the centre

of the story and the hapless young MP out of Parliament.

Mr Barclay's contribution to Parliament is to remind MPs that owning up is usually the best policy. Go with your own instinct, and when you get daft advice from others, say thank you and ignore it.

Winston Peters comes close to being Politician of the Year for once again being kingmaker but he will have to suffice with being the Comeback King.

There have been so many: getting his new party across the line in 1993 after being expelled from National, holding the balance of power in 1996, boosting his caucus from 5 to 13 in 2002 after coming within 32 votes of being wiped out in 1999, getting back into Government in 2005, returning his party to Parliament in 2011 after being wiped out in 2008, and this year leading his party to again hold the balance of power, and ending up as Deputy Prime Minister, again, and Foreign Minister, again.

When he entered negotiations with Labour, he barely knew Jacinda Ardern.

He was almost certainly leaning towards Labour from the outset, rather than installing National for a fourth term, but as well as getting a decent deal, he had to be persuaded she had the right stuff.

She is perfectly comfortable being the Pollyanna Prime Minister with her exhaustingly positive outlook but she is also tough.

That was clear from the moment she landed the Labour Party leadership on August 1, and through the course of the campaign.

After the election she pulled off the most complex Government arrangements there have been under MMP with one of its toughest negotiators.

She may have had an advantage in that being a virtual stranger to Mr Peters meant she came from a base of low expectation.

She was determined not to walk over the Greens, despite them putting themselves in a position if she had been so inclined, and gave significant ministerial roles and policy concessions both New Zealand First and the Greens.

And she took the courageous step of putting herself in charge of reducing child poverty.

She does not have the experience of Mr Peters or the financial fluency of John Key or the foreign affairs expertise of Helen Clark.

But for what she has achieved in a short time and how she has achieved it Ms Ardern represents a new age of politics and is Politician of the Year.

-Audrey Young is political editor of The New Zealand Herald.

Comments

There is an inter generational change to liberal secularism going on and this was reflected in the election result. Bill English is a committed Roman Catholic and has based many of his voting positions on his faith. I would be surprised if Bill has a future in politics but he is still young compared to Winston Peters.

Unusual angle, to begin with Bill English' position on the euthanasia debate, as if being opposed is somehow irrelevant and against the general mood.

To tight with the money .homeless .and many things. we should remember

You're right there.

 

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