How Nikki Kaye went from deputy leader to losing 'the passion' in just two days

National MP Nikki Kaye says her shock retirement shouldn't be seen as a vote of no confidence in her new leader, Judith Collins.

Just 48 hours ago Kaye was deputy to Todd Muller, the pair set to lead National into September's general election. Muller's surprise resignation just 53 days into the role also saw Kaye lose her job, to veteran Ilam MP Gerry Brownlee. 

On Thursday Kaye rocked the political landscape by announcing she was quitting politics altogether, throwing away a chance to win back her position as Education Minister. 

"I think the time is right for me personally," she told The AM Show on Thursday. "I think with breast cancer, I've always looked at life a bit differently. I've had an amazing opportunity in Parliament, but also to serve the public, and now the time is right for me to go."

Her announcement came just 36 hours after Collins took the reins. Asked if it was a sign she's not a fan of the controversial firebrand the public knows as 'Crusher', Kaye said "not at all".

"I want people to absolutely know that I will be campaigning for both Judith and the National Party at this election. It was a very hard decision from that perspective - I worry about the seat of Auckland Central, I really hope it can be retained by National so I will be on the phones campaigning for Judith and the National Party."

Kaye has held Auckland Central since 2008, taking it off Labour and twice beating future Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. But she told The AM Show after losing the deputy role, she "just knew" it was time to retire.

"I've always believed you've got to step up or step out... it's such a privilege to be in Parliament and every waking moment that you're there, you're there to help people. And if you lose the passion to be able to do that, then it's really important that you get out of the building and make way and make space for someone else."

Nikki Kaye.
Nikki Kaye. Photo credit: Getty

Kaye said she backed Muller's rolling of former leader Simon Bridges because "we were potentially heading for a pretty bad election result", with the polls suggesting Labour would romp home. Despite the polls not improving since then, and Kaye losing her deputy role, she says under Collins the party will do better.

"Judith is a very strong and powerful person. She has got a real force of nature, and I think people will see when we're heading into the largest economic crisis of a generation, to have someone like her at the helm will be very beneficial to New Zealand... We've got a real crack at this election." 

This week's Roy Morgan poll had Labour on 54 and National on 27. Even with National's traditional coalition partner ACT polling well, they're far from being able to form a Government. 

'Life is very short'

Kaye took leave from Parliament in 2016 after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She returned later that year, and in 2017 resumed full ministerial duties. The experience, she said, taught her that "life is very short and you have to take every moment".

"I've been in politics... pretty much my whole life. I have loved serving the public. I'm kind of looking forward to a Tuesday night on the couch. I'm looking forward to spending some time on Great Barrier Island." 

Just hours after the first reports of her impending retirement broke, fellow National MP Amy Adams - who cancelled a planned retirement to back Muller - said she too was quitting. Kaye said there was no connection between the simultaneous retirements. 

"With Todd Muller's decision to resign the leadership the most important issue for our party was to get a strong and effective leadership team in place without delay, and I am proud at the way in which the caucus managed this," said Adams. 

"I am in no doubt that in Judith Collins we have the right leader for the challenges ahead and Judith and the team have my full support."

Judith Collins.
Judith Collins. Photo credit: Newshub.

In a short statement, Collins thanked both Adams and Kaye for their "incredible contributions".

"They are both highly-skilled professionals who will continue to make a difference in their next careers. I thank them for everything they have done for the National Party and New Zealand politics over the years, and I wish them the very best for the future."