Jamie Mackay: 2021 in review (and a couple of awards too)


A columnist’s final column for the year is always a celebratory one. A celebration because it’s your last to angst over writing. And a celebration because it’s a chance to look back on the past year.

To avoid the risk of repeating myself, I glanced back upon what I had written this time a year ago and it got me thinking; the more things change, the more they stay the same. To prove it, here’s my 2020 opening salvo:

There’s no sugar-coating it, 2020 has been a bugger of a year. For anyone younger than Winston Peters, who was born in a Northland manger just before the end of the Second World War, this could easily have been the most tumultuous year of their lives, maybe even their “annus horribilis”.

This time 12 months ago we were looking forward to Christmas completely free of Covid. Jacinda’s “Team of Five Million” had pulled together for the common good. United we stood. Heck, unless we were Greek scholars, none of us had even heard of Delta or Omicron. We knew 2021 was going to be better. The borders would reopen and we’d get on with life, vaccinated and living with Covid.

But someone forgot to give that memo to 2021. What 2021 gave us was division. In bucketloads.

I think back 40 years when the Springbok tour divided a nation. Time and tide has proven I was on the wrong side of history on that one. I have no doubt though, four decades on, that history will prove me right in 2021 as a double-vaxxed Kiwi. Sadly, not everyone agrees.

The same division applies in rural New Zealand. Ardern was a political phenomenon in 2020. A modern-day morphing of Mother Teresa and Joan of Arc. For a Prime Minister and a political party to carry 50 per cent of the popular vote was uncharted waters.

For a National party, the supposed farmers’ party, to only win the party vote in one electorate was plumbing new depths – sinking without trace almost, to continue the water analogy.

So, if Ardern was deservedly the politician of the year in 2020 for navigating us through Covid, the tide has gone out for her in 2021. Of the 400,000-odd Kiwis, many of them in the provinces, who changed their voting allegiance from National to Labour, I suspect more than a few have changed camps again.

As for 2021, honourable mentions go to the effervescent, affable and hard-working Minister of Everything, Chris Hipkins, who gloriously told us to go “spread our legs” in lockdown.

Grant Robertson remains a safe set of hands under the high ball. Simon Bridges grew his hair, reinvented himself and we all decided, with the exception of Judith Collins, that we liked him. That resulted in Christopher Luxon, channelling his Kiwi from the 1983 Melbourne Cup, to come from nowhere to charge up the home straight, only to be pipped at the post by David Seymour.

Seymour’s transformation from a twerking Mr Bean to on-point politician, able to read the room and scratch the common sense itch, has been the standout. Seymour is the Politician of the Year.

This year’s Ag Person of the Year also has its genesis in conflict and division. Poorly thought out, impractical and unworkable government regulations saw the protest group Groundswell NZ hit the big time in July with the Howl of a Protest, mobilising more than 60,000 Kiwis in the process.

Groundswell’s fronted by a couple of laconic, low key, no-nonsense southern farmers who decided “enough is enough” and whose call-to-arms Facebook videos are so droll they’re brilliant. Take a bow Bryce McKenzie and Laurie Paterson. You share the Gong.

And just to ensure urban NZ joined the party as well, the government decided to throw in the poorly thought out, impractical and unworkable Three Waters reforms. Nanny state-ism and 2008’s version of wokeness spelt the end of the Helen Clark government. A good government to boot. A warning shot perhaps, across the bows, for Jacinda and Grant.

And a parting shot for 2021. Someone famously made quite a bit of hay in 2020, to use farming vernacular, by telling us to be kind. Maybe, after all the division of 2021, that should be our mantra again for 2022?

After all, ’tis the season of goodwill to all men (and women of course). Of all races and creeds. And anti-vaxxers. And Apostle Brian.

It was just so hard not to offend folk in 2021. I’m over it. I’m outta here. 2022’s gotta be a better year.

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