'She's moved into a different league' - National's Nikki Kaye on how the old Jacinda Ardern rivalry has evaporated

By her own admission, the 2017 election was a humbling experience for National's Nikki Kaye.

Not least of all because her old Auckland Central electorate rival happened to become Prime Minister.

Of course, the National education spokesperson denies any such rivalry still exists with Jacinda Ardern.

"While when we stood in the seat we were definitely competing against each other, I think to be very humble about it, she's moved into a different league," Kaye says.

"She's Prime Minister and I certainly have respect for that role and the fact that she's at the top of her game and you've got to acknowledge that, so I don't consider myself as a rival with her now.

"When we were standing in the seat we certainly were but I think you have to acknowledge she's Prime Minister of New Zealand and she's leading the country."

Nevertheless, the parallels of Kaye's and Ardern's political histories are undeniable.

Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye teaches Hadyn Jones about the age old art of door knocking. Source: 1 NEWS

Both faced-off as the National and Labour candidates for Auckland Central in the 2011 and 2014 general elections.

Early in these battles, the contest was colloquially, or crudely, known in party back rooms as Battle of the Babes.

Kaye won the seat on both occasions, by the small margins of 717 and 600 votes, with Ardern elected on the Labour List.

Both 37-years-old, the pair were the highest profile young female MPs for their respective major parties, before Ardern's meteoric rise to Prime Minister last year made such titles a little irrelevant.

But there's no denying the continued prominence of Kaye within the National Party.

Her transition from Minister of Education to opposition spokesperson for the same portfolio has had her front and centre as a vocal opponent of Labour's scrapping of national standards, and their uncertain intentions for Kiwi charter schools.

Kaye says National's strong showing at the election, with a front running 44 per cent of the vote, has both enthused their first few months in opposition, and cast a degree of sadness over their fall from power.

"Obviously you're sad, you know you're going from, I was managing an $11 billion portfolio to being in opposition where you technically have no funding or major decision making responsibility," she says.

"I worked in opposition when I was a staffer and we went through our worst election result ever in 22 per cent in the polls, so I've been there at a different time when we've been in opposition, not as an MP, and I guess the thing I would say is we still have a lot of support out there.

"That means you get a lot of people contacting you, wanting you to fight hard on particular issues.

Senior female National MPs have taken aim at the PM for her decision. Source: 1 NEWS

"Sometimes when you get lower support you probably don't get as many people contacting you, so that's one thing that's going on."

Asked whether Kaye herself aspires to lead the National Party there is an emphatic "no".

She is also resistant to the idea that generational change, like that which revitalised Labour through Ardern, is needed for the National Party in light of Bill English staying on as leader.

"I mean from my perspective, firstly Bill did extraordinarily well, evidenced by the fact we were the highest polling party," Kaye says.

"And then secondly, he's got a lot of support. I think what matters more is what your policies are. So I think the questions for us are just how are we ensuring we absolutely have good policies and connect with the next generation of New Zealanders.

"So I am more focused on ensuring we have a policy platform that is right for the next generation.

"You don't necessarily need to have a leader that's under 40, it's more about what your policy platform is."

And considering Kaye's deference to the role of PM, how does she grade Ardern's leadership performance so far?

"Well I'm not a member of the Labour Party," Kaye says with a smile.

"I think it's quite early on in terms of the process but I think you saw she's got good public support.

"But from my perspective while we disagree on the policies I certainly do think they'll be people in the part that think she's doing really well."

Ms Kaye successfully ran against Ms Ardern in the Auckland Central electorate in 2011 and 2014. Source: 1 NEWS

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