Simon Bridges - at the start of the year within grasp of being the next Prime Minister - has named rival Jacinda Ardern's "stonking" election result as the standout political performance of the year.
Ardern led Labour to a landslide victory in October, becoming the first Prime Minister to preside over a single-party majority Government in the MMP era. Bridges, who had National polling at 46 percent in February, told The AM Show on Friday he had to "give credit to Jacinda - as much as it pains me as a National Party guy to do that".
"The reality is we've come through COVID well and they had a stonking great election result under Jacinda."
Bridges was rolled earlier this year after the party's polling fell into the 30s. The man who rolled him stepped down just a couple of months later, and the party's third leader in a matter of months - Judith Collins - led National to its worst election result in nearly two decades.
Bridges said while "people come together" at a time of crisis, perhaps giving Labour an advantage in the polls, they "did well" when it mattered - perhaps with a bit of help from across the aisle.
"The other thing - if I could sort of even it up just ever so slightly... we were there as well. There was a COVID committee, we were working to improve the Government's response. I'm proud of that."
What if we hadn't flattened the curve?
Labour MP David Parker, appearing with Bridges on The AM Show, suggested the simple fact there was a crisis wasn't wholly behind his party's "stonking" win.
"Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have proved it doesn't always go well. I actually agree that National, under Simon Bridges, handled it responsibly in Opposition and that we've done incredibly well as a country."
The US response has been a shambles, with basic health measures such as social distancing and face masks falling prey to political partisanship, and Republican Party leaders - including the President himself - spreading falsehoods and refusing to follow scientists' advice.
The UK initially planned to let the virus run its course, but when it became clear this would result in an unconscionable loss of life, went into lockdown - too late to eliminate the virus completely.
"Few would have guessed that the USA and UK, both countries that have historically been seen as leaders in pandemic preparedness with adequate wealth and expertise, would suffer as badly as they did," Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh's medical school, wrote in journal Nature this week.
"This can be chalked up largely to poor leadership, following an influenza model of letting the virus spread, and lack of humility in the face of an infectious disease."
New Zealand, in contrast, realised as early as February the influenza model wouldn't work, Dr Sridhar said.
"It was surprising that some leaders would falsely claim the choice was between the economy and COVID-19 instead of realising that minimising COVID-19 harm would also reduce non-COVID-19 harm and vice versa.
"In fact, economic analysis of the first half of 2020 clearly shows that countries that suppressed COVID-19 effectively also experienced the smallest losses in gross domestic product and, in some instances, even experienced growth. In the medium- to long-term, it is clearly the virus, not the restrictions themselves, that is hurting the economy."
Parker thanked Kiwis for cooperating when the country went into a sudden lockdown in March, saying there was little choice since we didn't have enough contact tracing or testing capabilities at the time.
"The only way you could stop the virus spreading was through isolation - we took those hard decisions and New Zealanders backed us. Partly because I think New Zealanders had learned we're all interconnected following how we'd responded to the March 15 terrorist attack the previous year. It was a terrible thing, but the community response was very good."
A number of vaccines have in recent weeks have started to roll out, with the UK the first to roll out a mass vaccination campaign. New Zealanders won't start getting theirs until probably March or later - giving us a chance to see if they really do work and are as safe as manufacturers' trial data says they are.
"If we were in the situation of the US or the UK we might have to push things through... but we don't need to do that. We can take care, and we are," said Parker.
"It would be good if we got it now, but that means that we can see how they went," added Bridges, urging the Government to play to its strengths.
"The biggest thing I think is the Government's got to make sure - they're good at comms actually - that they've got an amazing education campaign, that people are understanding what this is about, that they've got high-profile role models saying 'we're getting the vaccine because it's safe'. That's got to be a really big part of early next year."