National leader Bill English faces uncertain political future after coalition snub

With his failure to retain the role of Prime Minister - having filled the post unelected for the past 10 months - Bill English must now occupy an ignominious position in New Zealand electoral history.

This is the second time Mr English has led the National Party to the polls - 15 years apart - and emerged on the wrong side of the people's choice.

Or perhaps this time, Winston Peters' choice, to be more exact.

Mr English first assumed National leadership in 2001, after Jenny Shipley lost support of the Opposition caucus and surrendered the helm.

Under his watch, the party suffered its worst-ever electoral defeat the following year, struggling to achieve 20 percent of the vote against Helen Clark's Labour juggernaut.

Still only 40 years old, he was given a chance to right the ship, but by late 2003 patience had worn thin. He was unseated by former Reserve Bank Governor Don Brash and relegated to education spokesman, ranked fifth in the party hierarchy.

Over most of the past 14 years, he bided his time behind three-term Prime Minister John Key (now Sir John Key), rising to the post of loyal deputy and Finance Minister. The pairing even drew favourable comparisons with Bob Hawke and Paul Keating in Australia, and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in the UK.

But probably sensing his time had come, Mr Key stepped aside last December, giving the party time to regroup and providing Mr English an opportunity to re-establish himself as more than just a number-cruncher

Mr English is generally perceived as hard-working and a man of high integrity, traced back to his earthy upbringing in rural Southland.

He hasn't totally escaped controversy over the years. In 2009, it was revealed he received a weekly $900 living allowance, even though he owned a home in Wellington.

Soon afterwards, Mr Key announced a review of Cabinet minister housing allowances and Mr English paid back the amount he had received, dating back to the 2008 election.

During the recent campaign, he also came under fire for his knowledge of a scandal involving Clutha-Southland MP Todd Barclay and an employee, which ended in a confidential settlement agreement.

He was also criticised in some quarters for not tempering the claims of finance spokesman Steven Joyce that Labour had an $11.7 billion "fiscal hole" in their alternative budget.

Now a two-time loser, Mr English faces an uncertain political future, and may have paid the price for his personal history with NZ First leader and 'queen-maker' Winston Peters.

When then-Prime Minister Jim Bolger cast Mr Peters out of the National Party caucus in 1992, Mr English was there to second the motion.

He is assured a seat in Parliament as National's top-ranking list candidate, but whether he remains party leader and survive another three years until the next election remains to be seen.