The English legacy still unfolding

Bill English.
Bill English.
Bill English will leave Parliament with an unfilled legacy, and attributes he will receive credit for only after he leaves.

The long-serving MP, who is still proud of his Dipton roots, announced yesterday he will resign as National Party leader on February 21, giving his valedictory speech on March 1.

Much will be made of Mr English leading National to two defeats, one of them the worst in the history of the party he has unselfishly served for more than 27 years.

The genuine dismay and remorse on his face as he learned of the fate of MPs he regarded as friends back in 2002 proved to many how much he cared about the fate of others, well ahead of himself.

The 2002 election was brutal for Mr English as National barely scraped 20% of the popular vote. It was not long before the knives were out for the Clutha-Southland MP as former Reserve Bank governor Don Brash gathered the numbers to take over as leader.

Mr English has always appeared to be a southern man, with an ''aw shucks'' attitude belying a huge intellect.

Although he has been a National MP, and therefore criticised by the Left for not caring about housing shortages, poverty and homelessness, the MP has always cared about the lives of others and was often a lone voice at party conferences, arguing for a way of helping working families do better for themselves. And his passion for working on how to get unemployed into well-paying jobs must be seen as before their time by the National Party.

The election of Jacinda Ardern as first, Labour Party leader, then Prime Minister, was a sign National needed to change its leadership style.

Ms Ardern changed the face of New Zealand politics when she took over leadership from Andrew Little and Mr English battled to stay relevant. Although National remained well ahead in the polls, an element of political change could be felt throughout the country.

During his time in Parliament, Mr English and his wife Mary had their six children. The close-knit family will now have the chance to decide on a new direction, without the constant scrutiny of the media.

During the election campaign, the English children were actively campaigning for their father. Yesterday, they were all there to pay tribute to their dad as he made his announcement.

National has a few hard decisions to make. Unlike former prime minister Sir John Key, who openly endorsed Mr English as his replacement, Mr English has stayed away from pointing to a logical successor.

Rightly, he points to the talent, ideas and energy he has witnessed in the new caucus which he believes will take National back to government in 2020. The next election is still a long way away and National's new leader must be able to connect with voters in the way of Sir John and Ms Ardern.

The presidential style of New Zealand elections did not really suit Mr English, who is more of an old-style campaigner of hall meetings, shaking hands of potential voters and turning up to events where he felt he could make a difference - either in international banks or a shearing shed in Southland.

Mr English indicated he will spend some time in Dipton but is guarded about his chances of returning to farming.

His strong leadership during the global financial crisis, and the contacts he built up around the world as he met international bankers to sell this country's story during a time of crisis, gives him a reputation of a man who understands finance.

His talents are likely to mean Mr English will be approached for positions in international finance, like the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. Whether he wants to move overseas is yet to be revealed, but he will have the option.

The talents of Mr English, the man and the politician, are widely recognised internationally. His legacy in New Zealand is still unfolding.

Comments

'A lone voice at party conferences', speaks volumes about what sort of Party National is.