English’s resignation ‘purely personal’

National leader Bill English says his decision to leave Parliament is a “purely personal decision”, tearing up as he mentioned the impact of his long political career on his family.

After weeks of speculation over English’s future, he announced on Tuesday morning he would resign as an MP effective February 27.

Flanked by National MPs, English told media the decision had come after careful consideration and discussions with his family over the summer.

His resignation had been a “purely personal decision” and not the result of any rumblings within the party’s caucus.

“Clearly I wouldn't be standing down if we were in government, if I was Prime Minister, but I’m satisfied I would have the support of my caucus through to 2020 if they could see I was determined to do that.”

English said he had no plans to nominate a successor, unlike his predecessor Sir John Key, but hoped the selection process would be conducted as well as it had been when he took over.

National leader Bill English exhales as he walks in to announce his resignation as National leader. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

“I just have a vote like everyone else in the process and I suspect I might enjoy them coming to ask me for it.”

While the MPs standing behind English - almost all senior MPs or former ministers - hinted at a generational gap, he did not believe there needed to be a widespread changing of the guard.

“The caucus needs a balance of people who have fresh ideas and energy, but also people who know the big picture and see the longer term ... I think the caucus has a very good balance of that type of experience.”

English said he had many highlights from his time in politics, including steering New Zealand through the global financial crisis, leading health reforms in Jim Bolger’s National government, and serving as opposition education spokesman.

“I’ve been fortunate to be able to come to work every day with a sense of mission, but also work with a team of people who shared that sense of mission.”

“For all our time together as a family we have lived with ... we have lived with the demands of public service. Your strength and tolerance has enabled my career, I now look forward to a new life together.”

Thanking his family for their support during his 27-year career, English teared up and had a catch in his voice as he spoke about what they had gone through.

“For all our time together as a family we have lived with...we have lived with the demands of public service. Your strength and tolerance has enabled my career, I now look forward to a new life together.”

He said the time he spent with his family over summer had helped him make his decision.

“I spent quite a ton of time, for the first time in a long time actually, with no real political concerns, no need to get ready for the next Cabinet and time together with the family and that’s what I mean about it being a personal decision.

“This is more about myself and my family having spent most of my adult life, all of their lives with the demands of politics and I want the opportunity to be able to start again on a different life and for our family to be able to live without politics.”

He revealed that as part of keeping a balance between work and family life, he had not eaten at parliamentary restaurant Bellamy’s since 1996 - instead going home for dinner.

English’s deputy leader Paula Bennett - whose own position may be under threat - told media he had led National “incredibly well”.

"We're going to miss him a lot. I don't think New Zealand will ever appreciate the depth of his thinking."

English said he was confident the party would have a successor in place by the time he stood down on February 27, ahead of his valedictory speech on March 1.

Senior National MPs Nathan Guy, Chris Finlayson and Steven Joyce watch on as Bill English speaks. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern paid tribute to English in a statement, saying he had "worked tirelessly as Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Finance Minister, and Opposition Leader among his many public roles".

"Very few serve for so long at such a high level, but garner the respect of many."

Climate Change Minister and Green Party leader James Shaw praised English for his commitment and perseverance over his long career.

“Anybody who’s involved in politics is aware of the great personal sacrifice that is required to do this job, for both the politician and their loved ones."

Federated Farmers president Katie Milne described English as "a straight-up farm boy from Dipton" who many Kiwis could relate to.

"He demonstrated he wasn’t just an astute manager of the nation’s finances, but through his approach to social investment revealed he was a caring leader who really wanted to make a difference for the less well-off," Milne said.

However, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters was less charitable, saying simply that politics was "a rough game".

"I don't think he wants to know about sympathy or otherwise. He's a big, grown, aged man, so to speak, and he's always known how rough this game is because he's been part of it, and [been] in fact inside coups, and sooner or later it will come to haunt you...

"He's the person that stabilised things under a very flighty leader called John Key, he did the hard yards, so to speak, but in the end, if you look at the concretisation of wealth in so fewer hands in that period of time, this cannot be regarded as a period of success economically."

When rumours of a leadership change first started circulating in late January, English dismissed the talk as “a bit of gossip” and said he was confident he still held the support of many within the party.

"I’ve been involved in this caucus for a while and leader since late [2016] and I have to say I’ve enjoyed more support in the caucus and the party membership and our supporters than ever…

"We can talk about the leadership any time we like, but in the end it’s about numbers and we’ve got some pretty good numbers - 44 percent of the public voted for us in the election, we’ve got 56 seats in Parliament, we remain larger than Labour and New Zealand First put together and we have every intention of maintaining those numbers."

The party put on a unified front at a two-day caucus retreat in Tauranga last week, but English had already decided it was the right time to move on.

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