The resignation of Simon “Bill” English became a political inevitability on the 19th of October 2017 when Winston Peters famously said “I’m with her”, or words to that effect. What we didn’t know was exactly when English would retire to the deep south. On Monday the 13th of February we got the answer as one of parliament's former brat pack called it quits.
While journalists across the country are starting to work on think pieces and political obituaries, Nexus decided it would stay on vacation and phone this one in. Unlike the Herald or NZME we have a whole acclaimed political sciences department, so we emailed our friend Dr Patrick Barrett and asked him to explain Bill’s legacy, what the future holds for National and whether David Bennett should be the new leader. Here is what he had to say.
NEXUS: What prompted English’s resignation?
DR BARRETT: Bill says he decided to resign over the Christmas break, and I don't think he liked the idea of facing at least another six years in Opposition.
NEXUS: How will New Zealand view his legacy?
DR BARRETT: He will be remembered as the National Party leader who lost two elections, the first in 2002 when he led National to its worst ever defeat by a dominant Helen Clark, and the second in 2017 when despite winning more votes that any other single party, he could not secure a majority in Parliament through coalition arrangements with other minor parties. Many National supporters will see Bill as being robbed of victory in 2017 by Winston's decision to go with a resurgent Labour Party led by Jacinda Ardern. He will also be remembered as a steady hand as Finance Minister between 2008 and 2016 through the period of the GFC and Christchurch earthquake, although this will also be remembered as a period of growing homelessness and an emerging housing affordability crisis.
NEXUS: We heard rumours of other possible resignations to follow including Joyce and Smith is this the beginning of a new era for National?
DR BARRETT: We are seeing a generational change in the leadership of political parties, but whether this translates into other resignations at this time remains to be seen. I anticipate David Carter, the former Speaker, will resign sooner rather than later, and I can't see Nick Smith or Steven Joyce returning to the Government benches within the next six years, so they may well choose to go too.
NEXUS: Will a leadership contest provide a “battle for the soul of the party” between the centre right and the conservative and social hardliners like Collins?
DR BARRETT: I think they will be more concerned about selecting someone who is able to take the challenge to Jacinda Ardern at the next election than with battling over the soul of the party. A public battle for the 'soul of the party' will see National lose support in the wider electorate - and that will probably happen anyway as it goes through this leadership change process.
NEXUS: Could this create the splinter parties needed for National to do better in an MMP environment?
DR BARRETT: I can't see any chance of splinter parties forming, but it would be interesting if they did.
NEXUS: Who are the likely front runners for a leadership contest?
DR BARRETT: Judith Collins has already put herself forward, Simon Bridges is expected to later today, Amy Adams is considered a possibility, Mark Mitchell may also put himself forward. Nikki Kaye has ruled herself out as a candidate, as has Paula Bennett. My pick is a Simon Bridges, Nikki Kaye leadership team.
NEXUS: What about our very own David Bennett?
DR BARRETT: David Bennett? Sorry, but unlikely.
NEXUS: Does this strengthen Labour’s position in the short term?
DR BARRETT: This process is likely to see National lose some of its 44 to 45% polling support, and this will work in Labour's favour, and perhaps even New Zealand First.
Shortly after we received this email Bridges declared his candidacy, we are now ready to state unequivocally that Dr Barrett is a psychic who can see into the short term future. Furthermore we would like to note that David Bennett was probably available for comment but this was funnier.