Bill English: 'Everyday I took my turn at the chisel'

Former Prime Minister and National leader Bill English has reflected on almost 10,000 days as a politician.

He made his valedictory speech to Parliament on Thursday evening, after 27 years of service as an MP.

Mr English said he never tired of representing the Clutha-Southland electorate, the "shifting beauty" and "marvellous display" of the landscape, which was never the same when looking out the airplane window.

He said he was heartened to see the turnout of thousands of volunteers during the 2017 election campaign.

"After three terms in Government, after a party has usually run its course and lost its energy, that had not happened. That's what leaves us with an opposition with strength and spirit."

He congratulated his successor Simon Bridges, and told him he had his full support.

"You have the qualities to be a very effective political leader, and I know the discussions we had in our caucus in the lead up to this changeover have meant you have the best possible start."

Mr English acknowledged the work of the Māori party, and said it was "a political mistake on behalf of Māoridom to vote them out".

He referred to the harm he'd seen in the early '90s, during the deinstitutionalisation of mental health and intellectual disability services.

"What I learnt from that is Government can do harm, particularly to the most vulnerable if it's not incredibly sensitive to their needs."

"The core of my the utter integrity of the individual person," he said.

"I've never met a person in 27 years who had no hope...including the worst of our offenders."

He said the only measure of the public service is whether it could "reduce the misery" of people.

"But we have a system built, still, too much on servicing that misery. Social investment will roll on because ideas are powerful, knowledge is powerful, more powerful than Government."

He said the only regret he had over his 27 years was that the National party did not get re-elected, "but that's politics, you get great opportunities without having to earn them and they can be taken away just as easily".

Mr English addressed his family and said that politics has been "our adventure".

"Particularly 2017 and the campaign, where I discovered that our rule of having no politics at home hadn't worked."

He said the family's rules included no talking about politics at home, no politics on Sundays and that Mr English would always be home for dinner.

"I discovered that actually they'd been reading the paper, surfing the internet and had developed political views of their own, some of which are wrong.

"But it's our togetherness that matters and our great gift of leaving politics will be that we can re-craft that sense of togetherness."

Mr English, an English Literature honours graduate, finished his speech with a quote from author James K Baxter's poem New Zealand:

"These unshaped islands, on the sawyer's bench, wait for the chisel of the mind."

In two weeks’ time, it will have been 10,000 days since he was elected to Parliament.

"I'm satisfied that every day I took my turn at the chisel," he concluded before the House stood for a standing ovation followed by a waiata.