What previous National Party leaders did after leaving top job

With Todd Muller's ascension to the National Party leadership comes questions over Simon Bridges' future.

Having been rolled by the Bay of Plenty MP after two horrid poll results in the last week, Bridges didn't give much away about his next move when questioned by reporters on Friday.  He promised to take stock and spend some time with family, while noting the privilege that comes with being in Parliament in any role. 

"We will obviously take a little bit of stock. I am looking forward to a bit of time with family. I will be coming to Parliament, I enjoy that, I find satisfaction from that. Obviously, these are things for the future and I will think all of that through," Bridges said.

"I am not going to come out with any grand pronouncements anytime real soon."

He said he was happy to be the MP for Tauranga.

"I certainly wouldn't say that I don't enjoy Parliament and politics, it's a great privilege."

Muller also wouldn't be drawn on what job Bridges or former deputy leader Paula Bennett could have under him either. 

There will be a lot for Bridges to now mull over, but on the decision of whether to leave Parliament or not, he could look back on the choices his predecessors made after their time in the top role came to an end. 

Jenny Shipley became leader of the party - and the country's first female Prime Minister - in 1997 after mounting a leadership campaign against then-Prime Minister Jim Bolger. Bolger lost support of the party and stood down from the leadership, allowing Shipley to take over. 

He retired from Parliament in 1998, causing a by-election in his electorate of Taranaki. Bolger would later go on to be New Zealand's Ambassador to the United States and chancellor of the University of Waikato.

Jim Bolger.
Jim Bolger. Photo credit: Getty.

Shipley lost the 1999 election to Helen Clark's Labour Party, but remained on as the National Party leader. However, over the next two years, she couldn't shake speculation about a leadership contest. In October 2001, ahead of the 2002 election, Shipley stood down as leader.

"I believe from discussions that I've had today that the majority of caucus wish to change the leader," Shipley was reported as saying at the time.

"It is clearly someone else's turn and Bill English, I believe tomorrow, will be chosen as the leader of the party."

Months later, in January 2002, Shipley, the MP for Rakaia, announced she wouldn't seek election again.

"When asked, I often said I expected to be a parliamentarian for between nine and 15 years. When I stand down I will have completed 15 years, 11 consecutive years of which have been as either Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition or in a senior ministerial role."

She would go onto join the board of a number of global businesses, including the China Construction Bank, and Genesis Energy. 

Dame Jenny Shipley.
Dame Jenny Shipley. Photo credit: Paul Henry.

Shipley's successor, English, didn't find much luck at the 2002 election, taking the party to a historic low of 20.93 percent. He stayed on, however, as Leader of the Opposition, but public polls at the time didn't get much better.

Nearly two years on since taking over from Shipley, English had his leadership contested by former Reserve Bank governor, Dr Don Brash, who was also the party's Finance spokesperson. Dr Brash won the leadership in a vote, with MPs reportedly voting 14-12 his way.

Unlike Shipley, English didn't leave Parliament. Instead he became the Education and deputy Finance spokesperson under Dr Brash. 

But Dr Brash couldn't clinch the Prime Ministership either, failing to knock Clark out of the job at the 2005 election. In 2006, as John Key rose in popularity and the release of Nicky Hager's book The Hollow Men loomed, Dr Brash resigned. He reportedly said the book wasn't a factor in his decision. A week later, he announced his decision to leave Parliament.

Don Brash.
Don Brash. Photo credit: Newshub.

In 2011, Dr Bash became the leader of the Act Party, although he wasn't a member of the party's parliamentary caucus. The party only received 1 percent of the vote at that year's election and Dr Brash stood down.

John Key led the National Party from 2006 to 2016, holding the Prime Minister role from 2008. Unlike his three immediate predecessors who each left the top job in Opposition, Key shockingly resigned from the Prime Ministership, citing a desire to spend more time with his family. 

"Let's be blunt, I've taken the knife to some other people and now I'm taking the knife to myself to allow others to come through...that's a healthy thing, it's a good thing."

He spoke of other leaders not leaving on their own terms and that he wasn't a "career politician".

"Over the years I have observed many leaders who, in a similar position, fail to take this step. I can understand why. It is a hard job to leave."

John Key.
John Key. Photo credit: Newshub.

Key stood down from Parliament in early 2017 as not to cause a by-election. He would later join the board of Air New Zealand and become chairman of ANZ New Zealand.  

When announcing his resignation, Key backed English, his deputy and Finance Minister, to succeed him, which he did. 

English led the National Party into the 2017 election, where it received just over 44 percent of the vote. However, without a majority, it needed the support of New Zealand First (NZF) to stay in power. In October that year, NZF leader Winston Peters announced his party had chosen to join into a coalition with the second-largest party, Labour. 

Bill English.
Bill English. Photo credit: Getty.

English and his deputy, Bennett, were re-elected as the leadership team days later and intended to fight the 2020 election. But in February 2018, English stood down and retired from Parliament. He was succeeded by Bridges.