Focus switches to deputies in National leadership race

The race to become Deputy Prime Minister is on (Newshub.)
The race to become Deputy Prime Minister is on (Newshub.)

With the National Party leadership decided, the real race now is who will be Deputy Prime Minister.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges is digging in - keen to stay at the right hand of the Prime Minister even if it's not John Key.

"[I've] got a number there really keen to back me, obviously there are some who won't."

But he wouldn't say how many exactly.

"I am not going to go into that."

Head-to-head with Paula Bennett, they both can't have the numbers but both are talking a big game and loudly.

"I'm quietly confident. I am in it to win it, but I am just going to keep working really hard for it," says Ms Bennett.

The Prime Minister's vocal in supporting Bill English for the top job, but wouldn't give any clues on who he thinks should be deputy.

"Come Tuesday, Simon Bridges will either be the Deputy Prime Minister or a very senior minister and I'll be toast," Mr Key said.

He refused to publicly choose between his front bench children.

When asked who was better, he replied: "The cool thing is they are both outstanding."

Told he can only vote for one, he said: "I will let you know Monday afternoon."

Ms Bennett is virtually an apprentice to Mr English, with her deputy finance and social housing portfolios, but no nod from him either.  

"I talk to Bill most days because our paths cross over so it's up to Bill to make his statements."

But Mr Bridges is using those close ties to bury his rival in the establishment corner, while claiming "new" national status.   

"I am fresh, I am invigorated.

"I bring a freshness and energy." 

And if he's confirmed as second-in-charge, Mr Bridges might need to weed out some Cabinet overstayers.

"We can't just be a John Key government without John Key."

Even if naming names is, well, a bridge too far.

Asked if Murray McCully and Nick Smith need to go, Mr Bridges refused to say.

"I am not going to do that."

Simon Bridges concedes he could be keen on a "social sector" portfolio, so he's looking to take the deputy's job and snatch someone else's Cabinet role too.