Lloyd Burr: National's next leader might not be an MP yet

Prime Minister Bill English casts his vote for the 2017 General Election at Asteron Tower on September 21, 2017 in Wellington, New Zealand. Voters head to the polls on Saturday 23 September to elect the 52nd Parliament of New Zealand.

OPINION: Forget Judith Collins, Simon Bridges, or Nikki Kaye. Or any of the other possible leadership contenders in parliament for National. 

The one to watch isn't even an MP yet. 

Her name is Nicola Willis. John Key is her mentor, and confidant. 

I know it's a radical suggestion that people might dismiss, and it does rely on Bill English staying on for a while longer, but hear me out. 

She's young, she's smart, she's articulate, and she's photogenic. 

She's an incredibly hard worker, and she's socially progressive, and an environmentalist. 

She's not a right-wing conservative. She's a centrist. Unlike the current crop she doesn’t speak fluent politic. She can talk to the everyday Kiwi. 

She's also a mother to four young kids, and had them while she was climbing the ladder at one of the biggest dairy companies in the world, Fonterra.  

Nicola Willis with her family
Nicola Willis with her family Photo credit: Supplied

She was a staffer in Don Brash's office when John Key rocketed into office. Then she worked for him for five years as a senior advisor. 

She's learned from the best. 

I've hosted a number of debates and events where Willis represented the National Party. 

Every time she was an impressive debater. Far better than the drivel that dominates Parliament; there's empathy, warmth, and compassion, but also toughness and ruthlessness. 

Nicola Willis is new, fresh, and energised. She knows how Parliament works. And how government works. And how business works. And the economy. 

She's worked in the public service, and in the private sector. 

Yes she's a townie, but she is self aware. She was so embarrassed at her lack of knowledge of farming that she remedied it and went to work for Fonterra. 

But after five years, she ditched the big salary, and the corporate future to go into politics. She hasn't made it into Parliament yet, but she's second cab off the rank on the party list. 

And she'll be an MP by the end of the year, when a vacancy pops up. 

She has the goods to compete with Jacinda Ardern, and beat her. 

Yes, there are obvious downfalls like the lack of profile, but that's an easy fix. 

National needs a new face for the future, and that's not one from its current fleet of weathered MPs.

Lloyd Burr is Newshub's acting political editor