Opinion: Biggest challenge facing National Party's eventual new leader will be the Jacinda Ardern political juggernaut

The leadership vote to be conducted by National's caucus within the next two weeks may well turn out to be the ballot that those who end up contesting the party's top job might well prefer to lose.

Source: 1 NEWS

That may seem a rather bizarre thing to say. And none of those trampling over one another in unseemly haste to get their names on the ballot paper are likely to have given much thought to the argument that victory may not turn out to be quite the triumph they are assuming will be the case.

More than likely, however, whomever wakes up on the day after the vote as the victor may also find themselves waking up to the far from pleasant realisation that he or she has inherited a bona fide poisoned chalice.

The PM’s message came during Parliament’s Question Time. Source: 1 NEWS

That should give serious food for thought for one Simon Bridges. The Tauranga MP is not everyone's cup of tea. He has made no effort to hide his ambitions in the wake of National's removal from power last October.

Bridges can be overly abrasive. His voice can peel paint. It can often sound like whining of skill-saw proportions.

But no-one else who is likely to seek election as leader has the competence, experience, freshness or drive necessary to stop the political juggernaut that is Jacinda Ardern from cleaning up at the 2020 election.

Mr English says he’s “very happy” with his decision to step down as National Party leader. Source: Seven Sharp

And that is National's dilemma. New Zealand's political history is littered with highly-promising Opposition party leaders who ended up finding their futures being crushed under the wheels of a new government embarked on its first term in office.

However good they might have been when it came to running the country, defeat at the election following their installation as leader saw them being subsequently dumped.

When it comes to leadership aspirants, National does not lack for quantity. It does lack for quality - especially the kind that can shine in Opposition.

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

The capacity to enthuse, excite and inspire the punters is not something in Steven Joyce's armoury or vocabulary.

Paula Bennett was promoted above the level of her competence, she is devoid of gravitas. She was called on to deliver on state housing in Auckland. She failed. Judith Collins has tried her hardest to put her chequered record behind her. But in the eyes of colleagues, she is "RISK" writ large.

Jonathan Coleman could make for a very good deputy once the droppings from the albatross which is the Health portfolio are finally cleaned away.

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

The other possibilities for deputy are Amy Adams who is rock solid in terms of competence, while Nikki Kaye would dovetail neatly with Bridges' strengths.

National's worry is that picking Bridges ends up putting him on the fast road to the political scrapheap.

English's relaxed and disarming demeanour meant the pressures which come with the role of Leader of the Opposition have been well hidden since his being forced to relinquish the prime ministership little more than three months ago.

Having achieved what had long been deemed impossible in preserving National's vote at last September's general election at well above the 40 per cent mark for the fourth such consecutive time and consequently maintaining National's dominance in Parliament in terms of being the party holding the most seats in the chamber, English was thus under no pressure to deliver.

The latter's successor will enjoy none of those ameliorating factors which disguised the oft-quoted wisdom that being the Leader of the Opposition is the worst job in politics, but one that the ambitious are far more often than not obliged to do in order to secure the best job in politics, namely becoming prime minister.

If you have any doubts about the veracity of that observation, just note the examples of Phil Goff, David Shearer, David Cunliffe and Andrew Little.

English might have been biting back tears while making his announcement that he was standing down as leader.

When those aforementioned one-time Labour leaders were relieved of the post, you could have been excused thinking they were about to shed tears of joy such was their almost palpable relief.

Labour's circumstances during those leaders' respective tenures in charge during the party's most recent spell in Opposition were far more dire than National's currently are.

There are significant similarities, however.

The most obvious one — and the one that will be the biggest challenge facing the new leader — will be Ardern herself.

The Prime Minister is a Sir John Key in drag — but wth vision.

Like English's predecessor, Ardern has shown no qualms in putting the pragmatic ahead of principle when circumstances so demand.

English benefited hugely from being seen as, if not the creator of the rock-star economy, then at least as its highly responsible minder.

Ardern enjoys rock-star status. The only hit that anyone has landed on her — Labour's on-again, off-again stance on the introduction of a capital gains tax — was self-inflicted.

In contrast, National's new leader will start Day One from Square One.

The Jacinda-effect claims another victim with Mr English deciding he’s not the man to lead National forward. Source: 1 NEWS



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

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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