No.29: Joe Hockey (shadow treasurer). Joe Hockey looks set to have the toughest job in Australian politics come September next year. That’s when, if current polls bear out, he’ll become Treasurer.

It will be the moment of truth for a man whose stint as shadow Treasurer — from February 2009, when he replaced the accident-prone Julie Bishop — has been marked by struggles over fiscal credibility and ongoing battles with the economic irrationalist wing of the Coalition: the Nationals and economic interventionists.

With an easygoing demeanour and a Beazleyesque girth, Hockey has long battled perceptions that he’s too nice for the hard stuff of politics. Many in the business community regard him as a lightweight — “buffoon” is one of the harsher terms thrown around.

What Hockey definitely has is, for a politician, the dangerous quality of an open mind. Too open, say his critics — he’s the man who famously damaged his leadership prospects by asking his Twitter followers what they thought about climate action. Senior politicians are supposed to be men and women of conviction, certain in their beliefs and hellbent on implementing their agenda.

Still, business and economists will be hoping Hockey continues to strengthen into the party’s economic disciplinarian who’ll keep a big-government leader and the Nationals under control. — Bernard Keane

No.28: Paul Howes (national secretary, Australian Workers’ Union). Self-confident, self-promoting and self-aggrandising, 30-year old Paul Howes is l’enfant terrible of the Australian union movement.

His attention-grabbing ways have won him enemies, but have also put him exactly where he wants to be: at the centre of political debate.

In the past year, Howes’ interventions have helped win generous carbon tax handouts for the steel industry, pushed the government into introducing tough new anti-dumping laws and heaped pressure on the RBA to slash interest rates. Most recently, he helped kick off the debate revolving around Labor’s relationship with the Greens, comparing them with One Nation.

A former teenage Trotskyist who left home at 15 and quit school at 17, he’s an ideas man and an alliance builder — just look at his close, and effective, partnerships with NSW ALP boss Sam Dastyari and incoming ACTU secretary Dave Oliver.

“I expect him to get a federal ALP seat in NSW in the next decade and he’ll be a very formidable opponent in Canberra,” predicts Liberal Party veteran Michael Kroger. “He could easily lead the party.” — Matthew Knott

No.27: Andrew Bolt (News Limited columnist). No matter what you think of his provocative views, News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt should not be underestimated; he writes with more verve than any other conservative commenter, he’s got his own political TV talk show and he blogs like a man possessed.

No one else in the country uses the medium as effectively to ram home a point, whip up outrage, tear down opponents or mobilise supporters.

“He converts the doubters, he makes arguments for people — that’s why he’s influential,” says Liberal party grandee Michael Kroger (who tried to enlist Bolt to run for parliament).

Union boss Paul Howes and Mark Latham also rate him as a devastating advocate for the conservative cause. He’s been particularly successful at undermining trust in the science of man-made climate change and fomenting opposition to the carbon tax. — Matthew Knott