Lloyd Burr: Bill English bows out with grace and dignity

OPINION: Bill English was in his hometown of Dipton recently, with his feet up, fresh air in his lungs, looking out at the paddocks with a mountain vista in the distance.

It was quiet, relaxing and a rare moment where he could escape the pressures of politics.

And in that moment, he had a revelation he'd had enough. Enough of being Leader, enough of being an MP and enough of sacrificing family time for Parliament time.

In that quiet moment of reflection - not interrupted by calls from journalists or staffers or lobbyists - he made up his mind: It's time to bow out of a career spanning 27 years.

Today, he made that decision public. And it's a good way to go. He's leaving on his terms, not the terms of others sharpening the knives in the background.

Mary and Bill English on election night.
Mary and Bill English on election night. Photo credit: Getty

It brings to an end one hell of a political innings for Mr English, who's experienced the best and worst of what Parliament threw at him.

Elected in 1990 when he was just 28 years old, he became a minister by 1996 and was leading the party by 2001 (when he had a young, growing family).

After a spectacular election failure in 2002, English probably felt like quitting politics, but he didn't.

He hung on through the turbulent leadership of Don Brash and fostered a close friendship in the background with a backbencher called John Key.

The pair rose to the top of the party after Brash's 2005 loss, and the duo became Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister three years later - in what became an incredibly successful partnership.

As Finance Minister, English steered the country through the recession and through the fallout of the global financial crisis, and was someone the country trusted to look after the Crown coffers and the economy.

The medicine was tough, but the patient required it: There were zero budgets, welfare crackdowns, military attrition and a shrinking public service.

Bill English after presenting the 2016 Budget.
Bill English after presenting the 2016 Budget. Photo credit: Getty

There were budget cuts to a whole range of groups - and it hurt. They were unpopular.

He partially sold off three state-owned power companies and Air NZ to raise funds for the Crown, and also gave a massive bailout to Rio Tinto's Tiwai Point smelter - both of which caused outrage and protests over many years.

But he didn't sell KiwiBank like he'd previously indicated. And kept pumping cash into KiwiRail.

As Prime Minister, he created a cross-Governmentt focus called 'social investment'. The idea is to invest in the most vulnerable Kiwis early in life, to save the taxpayer huge bills in the future for prisons, courts and healthcare.

The current Government has thrown that out.

English came alive on the election campaign last year, especially in the Newshub Leaders' Debate. He was fiery, funny and fast. It was refreshing to see him so lively.

He's the family man Kiwis related to, and they loved how much adoration he had for his wife and kids.

The National Party will not be the same without English. They will miss his intellect, his drive, his hard work and his unwavering dedication to making New Zealand a better place.

Bill English has had one hell of a tenure in Parliament. He's sacrificed a lot to do it. But he's made the right decision to go, and he's done it with dignity and respect.

Lloyd Burr is Newshub's acting political editor

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