John Key has made it clear his preference for the next National leader and Prime Minister is Bill English.
But does English want the job? He said he will indicate today whether he wants to go for it.
In the past he has indicated he was not interested in stepping up, but loyal deputies are supposed to say that.
In March Jarrod Gilbert interviewed English – Bill English: ‘I specialise in being boring’ – and wrote:
English has reached his political ceiling. He has no desire to have another shot at the leadership. He is as high up the ladder as he wishes to go. He doesn’t have to make a fuss to make his mark.
Yesterday Gilbert posted:
The transcript from my interview with Bill English not wanting to be leader.
Things have changed substantially now.
English first entered Parliament when he won the Wallace seat in 1990, so he has been an MP for 26 years. Under MMP that electorate expanded into Clutha-Southland.
English took over leadership of National in 2001, and led the party to a record defeat in 2002. A year later he was dumped and Don Brash took over.
Brash lost the 2005 election and a year later resigned. John Key took over with English as his deputy and Finance Minister. They won the 2008 election and since ten have run a (mostly) solid and dependable Government.
In 2014 English gave up his electorate to become a list only MP. Twenty four years of commuting between Southland and Wellington may have been a factor.
This raised speculation the English may be positioning himself to retire – it’s a lot easier to slip out as a list MP rather than precipitating a by-election.
Was this what English wanted to do?
Regardless, Key’s decision will have given English a lot to consider. And reconsider perhaps.
English may hanker for a stint in the top spot to atone for his 2002 embarrassment. He may think that a term or so as leader will help the party transition top a post-key era.
But that is very risky for the party – a new leader in a fourth term will have the odds stacked against them.
But English could also consider his job almost done. He may see that National may benefit more if it switches to fresh new leadership and perhaps even a new Minister of Finance.
A fresh new leadership team may revitalise the Government. They would have a solid base to work from. The Opposition is in poor shape, despite renewed hope from Labour now that Key is going. So a major change now would be a good gamble for National.
We’ll find out later today which way English decides to go. If he wants to take over his chances must be very good, given the advantage and promotion Key has given him.
Helen Clark passed on to Phil Goff a waning party with a leadership vacuum.
Key is leaving National in a much stronger position, a large caucus with no doubt a number of ambitious MPs.
English may fancy his chances, or he may be prepared to play a longer game for the good of his party.
The job is probably his if he wants it, but that may not be in his best interests, nor National’s.