John Key's resignation: Recipe's changed, but Govt will taste the same - Bill English

Hekia Parata, Bill English, John Key and Paula Bennett (Getty)
Hekia Parata, Bill English, John Key and Paula Bennett (Getty)

Soon-to-be Prime Minister Bill English says while John Key was a crucial ingredient in National's success, the recipe will still work without him.

Mr Key's shock resignation earlier this week forced the party to reconsider its direction for the first time in a decade, Mr English told Paul Henry on Friday.

The outcome of that? The decision to keep on doing what they have been, but with a different face at the front.

"It's the team that John Key has put together - I've been an integral part of all that happening, so of course there's going to be a lot of similarity," says Mr English.

"I've been in the middle of the policy-making for this Government, working with all these people. I know them well."

Mr English is vastly more experienced now than he was in 2002, when he led National to its worst-ever election result. Since then he's spent a decade as the party's deputy and eight years as Minister of Finance.

Having another go at being leader was never part of the plan, let alone being Prime Minister, he says.

"Now I have found myself, as the caucus has, as the country has, in the unexpected position where John's moving on."

And though he doesn't believe Mr Key can be replaced, he's confident a repeat of 2002 isn't on the cards at next year's general election.

"In the end, politics isn't ultimately about personalities. It's about what's delivered from Government for our businesses, for our families, for our households… I will be certainly committing myself, once I'm Prime Minister, to making sure the public can see we understand their concerns, we're focused on the issues that matter.

"But remember this recipe that's been operating under John Key has been a very successful recipe. It's a Government that heading into its third term has got the energy, it's delivering results for people, and we want to keep the recipe that's worked.

"There's a lot of people that are a part of that recipe. John was the face of it, and absolutely crucial to it. Now it will change a bit, but the essentials of stable, predictable Government are still there."

He wouldn't be drawn on who he'd prefer as his deputy. Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett are the two main contenders, both claiming they'll bring a younger, fresher view to complement Mr English's experience.

"I've kept at arm's length from the deputy contest. Caucus has made it clear they want a contest - they're getting that."

And with Labour's Mt Albert MP David Shearer likely to quit in favour of a job with the United Nations, there's speculation an early election could be called to avoid a by-election.

Mr English offered little insight into that, saying it was a decision "that would be made by the Prime Minister, along with senior cabinet colleagues".