Bill English surprised most of his Caucus members and almost all supporters of the New Zealand National Party when he announced his decision on Tuesday, February 13, 2018 to quit Parliament at the end of the month.
There has been speculation since Christmas time that the Leader of the Opposition was at his wits’ end since the defeat of his Party at the General Election held on September 23, 2017.
And for some time, the writing has been on the wall, although the mainstream media, especially the Radio did not want to believe that leadership change was imminent at the single largest party in Parliament.
A great leader
Bill English was a successful Finance Minister who steered the economy through years of Global Financial Crisis; he was a clean politician with an unblemished career of 27 years. He was a gentleman so simple that very often he forgot that he was the Prime Minister of the country, albeit for less than ten months.
It is unfortunate that leaders should be dismissed for poll debacles.
In the case of Mr English it was unfair as well.
For, as we had mentioned in the past, despite returning 56 members to Parliament last September, the National Party was short of five seats and with no one other than an almost defunct ACT Party to support (with one seat), there was no chance for National to enter a fourth-term government.
A fourth term for the centre-right National Party would have been a near-unprecedented feat; only two governments have won four consecutive elections since the World War Two. It will be even more of a challenge following the surprise resignation in late 2016 of Mr Key, who continued to enjoy high popularity ratings.
Victim of circumstances
In many ways, Mr English was a victim of circumstances. He assumed leadership at a time when differences within the Party began to be heard and the defeat at the September 2017 polls brought those differences to the fore. It is now becoming apparent that Mr English decided to quit with dignity and honour on his terms rather than face an almost certain ouster.
As we prepared this issue for printers, some challenges to leadership (and therefore discord) are becoming apparent within the National Party. At least four senior members of the Party have announced their intention to contest for the leadership.
Wisdom should prevail among National MPs; they should show solidarity and not test their strength. It is also time that they reconcile to reality and function as an effective and responsible Opposition.