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Lyndon Hood: Top Five Politicians 2015

Top Five Politicians 2015

'Tis the season for making lists! We’ve been flipping every coin we could lay our hands on and now we present the top five most toppest top political performers of 2015. Because otherwise, how will you know who to like?

5a. Not John Key

Prime Minister John key has had plenty of chances this year to do what he does best – papering over mistakes, lies, deliberate bad governance, or actual illegality on his or his Ministers’ parts. Surviving at all would be an achievement; Key has even sort-of-maintained his popularity.

By the standards our panel usually goes by – superficial observations about how well someone is playing the political game and guesswork about what voters will like – this means Key would make the cut. But this time we’re shaking things up a little.

Not because we’ve suddenly decided to stop pretending we're judging a popularity contest (one where the real prize, which is exactly the same as winning the competition, has already been awarded) and start applying some sort of critical analysis about the real-world effects of politics instead.

Not because the Prime Minister may now actually be a handicap to the National Party – in the sense that, since they’re so used to his ability to make bad things palatable, they no longer care what they actually do.

More because we’re just bored of including him in these lists over and over again. But his absence rates a special extra slot.

5. Judith Collins

Exonerated*, vindicated**, and ‘completely cleared’*** after the revelations in Dirty Politics and using her position to promote her husband’s business interests and so on, having spent her time on the back benches apparently alienating even more of her colleagues and enjoying the sponsorship of local companies, Judith ‘Hardass Nickname That Doesn’t Relate To Any Particular Results’ Collins is back. And not just to one Ministry – she's returned double.

The portfolios – Police and Corrections – are considered a good match for her personal brand of not minding being kind of mean.

As Corrections Minister she will use her no-nonsense style to sort out problems with Serco’s private prison management. That particular mess (widely considered to be the downfall of Sam Lotu-Iiga, who Collins replaces) dates back to the tenure of a previous Corrections Minister, Judith Collins.

[Update 9/12: And it turns out said mess was actually already dealt with by the time she came back. At least, if stopping Serco's contract in 2017 and, in the mean time, keeping giving them money to run a prison that is actually being run by Corrections counts as 'dealt with'.]

Which all goes to show, it’s not the doing bad things that matters, it’s the getting caught. Or, if you get caught, actually getting in trouble. Or if you get in trouble, actually admitting you did something bad. Most political commentary has been based on this idea for some time but did you believe us? No you did not. Who’s sorry now, eh?

* The thing that happened to the Exxon Valdez.
** The thing that happens when you live in a cloud of vindictiveness.
*** The thing that happened to the public memory of what she was accused of.

4. Jian Yang

In December this National backbencher managed to get his Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill through its first reading. That despite the fact that, as drafted, it defines ‘child sex offender’ in a way that includes burglary, kidnapping, and discharging a firearm with intent.

Clearly Parliament didn’t vote for the bill on its merit, so it must be down to pure political skill on the part of its sponsor. Keep an eye on this one!

3. A Rock

One thing we know about voters is they like stability, so this rock has a bright future. Not much to look at, but with overwhelmingly neutral public opinion it ranks well ahead of the average politician. This year its main contribution was to the farming economy, where it helped retain our increasingly scarce agricultural soil.

A stalwart part of the scenery, it’s consistently there in the background, under-promising and over-delivering on its core values of being a rock. The oldest possible old-fashioned politics.

2. Santa Claus

Despite years of scandal over controversial mass surveillance programmes, the personality cult around the man who knows if you’ve been bad or good remains intact. Claus, at least, has always been open about the extent of his network. His supporters point out he a list and checks it twice, which is two more checks than people put on state surveillance watchlists or sent to Guantanamo Bay get.

But the real secret of his staggering popularity is clear. He has a jolly approach. He uses his position to ‘cut through’ the dominant narrative using ‘soft’ media and tireless canvassing of shopping malls. Above all, he is the acknowledged master of flagrant pork barrel politics.

If Claus is known for anything it’s handing out gifts to literally everyone. He claims it’s ‘technically legal’ according to the Electoral Act. Well it’s definitely a rort. If he keeps up his form, the only person to come close in the gifting stakes will be Murray McCully. Well Murray, handing out a free sheep farms to Saudi Arabians for no return at all might be inexplicably generous but you’re not in Santa’s league yet.

His very existence is a threat to the orthodox economic model, so his actual policies are dismissed out of hand, but the media loves a showman. He shows no sign of retiring and no surprises there: he’s unstoppable. He’s been able to arbitrarily detain a number of New Zealand citizens on his private island in dehumanising conditions – and even the Prime Minister didn't dare call for their release.

Biggest victory: The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary. We haven’t seen proof he was involved, it’s just that when this Government of all Governments suddenly decides to create a marine reserve more than twice the size of the actual country, intervention by Santa Claus is the only credible explanation.

Biggest risk: He comes into your house at night. He sees you when you’re sleeping. If Jian Yang’s bill passes unchanged he could be classified as a child sex offender.

Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy negotiates
with moderate kiwifruit-vine representatives. [Image link]

1. Psa-V Kiwifruit Vine Disease

In 2010 this plucky newcomer went from a complete unknown to a household name on a platform of doing horrific damage to the kiwifruit industry. Thanks to our studied pose of political neutrality, we can’t say if this was good or bad. We can say it was hugely successful.

It’s clear Psa is now here for good, despite blatant use of the machinery of government to eliminate it or minimise its impact. It showed no regard at all for potential brand confusion with state-sector unions or public service announcements, and time has vindicated this strategy. It remains unstoppable, with a constantly expanding geographic base, genuinely changing the face of the country.

It also helped lay the groundwork (picked up by one of this year’s big losers, the Tasmanian Fruit Fly) for 2015’s most remarkable turnaround of getting Customs to actually start screening everyone’s bags again. For that alone, Psa-V gets our top spot.

******** Got feedback? Leave a comment on Lyndon's blog!

Follow @lyndonhood on Twitter.

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