National's would-be deputies counting their backers

Simon Bridges believes the deputy Prime Minister spot will be close (Simon Wong / Newshub.)
Simon Bridges believes the deputy Prime Minister spot will be close (Simon Wong / Newshub.)

Bill English has made his first big call as Prime Minister before he's even taken the reins.

He's re-appointed the man John Key called New Zealand's most influential unelected official - chief of staff Wayne Eagleson.

But there's still one pivotal role that needs to be filled - Deputy Prime Minister.

Aspiring Deputy Prime Minister Simon Bridges won't reveal how much support he's got for the job, but his rival Paula Bennett is happy to - she says he's only got three.

On Monday, New Zealand will find out who will be the second-in-charge to Bill English, who will formally become the country's 39th Prime Minister.

Mr Bridges wasn't talking about who was on his side on Friday, but maintains it will come "down to the wire".

"I'm not going to give you numbers; that is something that moves and something that changes literally day by day. But I do feel good about it, and I do feel I have a sense of support and momentum in my campaign.

"I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think I could win - right now it's really close. There won't be a lot in it. I know though I can win and I'm seeking to do that."

But Ms Bennett was a little more forthcoming with her figures which, if true, leave her rival in the dust.

"I think you'll find [Mr Bridges has] three names so that's three out of 58 because I'm going to vote for myself. I think that needs to be taken into consideration.

"I've had 10 come out already, and indications are that a few more might be."

She says her opponent's strategy is "trying to position it that they've got the back bench - that back bench can see I've got something to add as well".

But Mr Bridges won't be giving up easily, saying persuasion in Monday's meeting could tip the balance.

"Often times these things come down to the speeches in caucus on the day. There will be undecided people who aren't sure what they're going to do and those things can sway them."

Ms Bennett played down her leadership ambitions.

"I don't want to be Prime Minister, to be honest. I want to be Deputy Prime Minister, I would step into that role, acting when I needed to and I think I could do that ably, but I want to support Bill

Mr Bridges took a different tack, saying he represents a new face.

"What I offer is some change and renewal a sense of freshness that this isn't just a continuation if the John Key government."

But it appears Mr English isn't that keen on change. He's keeping on Mr Eagleson - Mr Key's backroom mastermind an integral part of Brand Key.

The two have history - they were together in the dark days of 2002.

"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.

But Mr English won't publicly back either candidate because the caucus wants them to fight it out.