National leadership hopefuls jockey for position hours after Bill English announces his exit from politics

National MPs eyeing a tilt at the party's leadership are already jockeying for position behind the scenes and number crunching following leader Bill English's announcement this morning that he's quitting politics.

Mr English's resignation will take effect in two weeks on Tuesday February 27 and he will leave Parliament for the last time on Thursday March 1.

The National Party leader and former PM stepped down today after entering Parliament in 1990. Source: 1 NEWS

National's MPs will choose the next leader and the candidates have just two weeks to lobby them before the vote.

None have publicly thrown their hats in the ring yet.

1 NEWS Political Editor Corin Dann says today has been "Bill's day" and says National sources have stressed they wanted "a bit of clear air" so people could assess his legacy and give him the respect they felt he deserved.

"Tomorrow though is another day. And that's when we're really going too see things start to move, I think, and candidates coming forward," Dann said tonight. 

"There's a lot of jockeying going on behind the scenes, a lot of number crunching, all that sort of thing for these candidates to work it out."

Simon Bridges and Amy Adams are the most likely frontrunners, but others could take a shot, Dann said. 

The long-serving politician and former prime minister announced he’s quitting politics for good. Source: 1 NEWS

"And what is so interesting about this race is that there isn't one clear, obvious candidate sitting there like there was when John Key went and he anointed Bill English effectively. It's wide open and we've got a genuine race," he said.

Dann said he thinks Mr English's departure is "a huge loss for National". 

"He was a politician of great respect, great mana, who had an enormous amount of policy grunt and did an enormous amount of work for that party. He was also very trusted and very liked by the public. He is going to be very difficult to replace," he said. 

"But the issue is did he still want to be there? And if he didn't - as it appears he wanted to go - then he needed to go so the party could rebuild and they could start again and the new leader can have time to try and rebuild to 2020."

Mr English has been an MP for 27 years after being elected in 1990, and for eight years was finance minister and deputy prime minister under John Key. Mr English was prime minister for 10 months after taking over from Mr Key in December 2016 but lost it to Jacinda Ardern last October. 

Mr English struggled to hold back emotions today as he fronted at Parliament with his family by his side to announce he's quitting politics. 

"This is more about myself and my family. They've spent all of their lives with the demands of politics and I want the opportunity to be able to start again on a different life without politics," he said.

And he's leaving with a  message to his MPs to make sure the contest to replace him doesn't turn nasty. 

That's a recipe for staying in opposition,  regardless of the quality of government," he said.

1 NEWS’ Political editor gives his analysis after Bill English stepped down today. Source: 1 NEWS



Crown says man accused of kidnapping, assaulting young woman in Auckland quarry has 'dark, sinister side'

A man who attacked a woman wearing a white mask and holding a baseball bat was usually a law abiding citizen, but in the black of night he lets his dark side loose, a prosecutor has told an Auckland court.

Colin Jack Mitchell, 59, has denied any involvement in the attack, which allegedly took place in February last year at a quarry in Riverhead, on Auckland's outskirts.

He pleaded not guilty to three charges, including abduction, wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and assault with intent to commit sexual violation.

Today, prosecutor Kirsten Lummis told a High Court at Auckland jury how Mitchell lived alone in Onehunga and had been a truck driver with the same company for 20 years.

He was also a keen helper at his local Returned Services Association for ex-soldiers.

But he also has "a dark sinister side that only comes out in the black of night", she said.

He turns into a prowler, attacked the woman "to exert control, to overpower and to dominate" her, she said.

The ordeal began along Great North Road.

Having been drinking with friends in Ponsonby and Karangahape Road, the woman had afterwards been turned away from a bar because she was too drunk.

Security camera footage obtained by police showed her then walking home along Great North Road.

At the same time a silver Ford Mondeo belonging to Mitchell passed her on Great North Road before circling back, Ms Lummis said.

She said while there was no footage showing the moment the woman got into the car, Mitchell either offered her a ride or pulled her inside, before driving to a quarry in Riverhead.

Possibly sleeping, the woman had no memory of the journey and instead recalls a sudden jolting hit on her head and waking to see a man in a white mask standing over her, telling her to turn around, Ms Lummis said.

Her clothes had already been removed.

Refusing to turn around, the woman tried to talk Mitchell out of the attack, saying "you don't have to be this person", Ms Lummis said.

He continued to threaten her and called her a "stupid bitch", before she scrambled free, calling 111.

At the same time, Mitchell's car can be on security camera footage fleeing the quarry, Ms Lummis said.

With the woman not knowing where she was or who had attacked her, what followed was an hour of panic before the police could come to her aid, Ms Lummis said.

She said Mitchell was arrested about three weeks later, having been linked to the crime by his car and DNA evidence found on a glove at the crime scene.

Defence lawyer said Mark Ryan said Mitchell did not commit the crime and urged the jury to reserve judgement until they had heard all the evidence.

The trial continues.

Colin Mitchell was described as a prowler as the Crown laid out its case against him. Source: 1 NEWS

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Do you know them? Hammer, bat and knife wielding robbers make off with goods from Hamilton dairy

Four people are being sought by police after the aggravated robbery of a Hamilton dairy early this morning.

Three people were captured on the store's CCTV each brandishing a different weapon, with one carrying a large knife, another a baseball bat and the third wielding a hammer.

Police say the robbers arrived at the Deanwell Superette around 7am in a stolen red Mazda Demio driven by a fourth person.

The store manager saw them arrive and locked himself in a back room, leaving the trio to steal a large number of cigarettes and other items.

The four fled the scene in the stolen vehicle which has since been recovered.

Anyone who has information that might help is being urged to contact Detective Sergeant Andre Kavanagh on 07 858 6200 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Three men wanted by police for the robbery of a Hamilton superette.
Three men wanted by police for the robbery of a Hamilton superette. Source: New Zealand Police