English: ‘We will regroup’

Bill English would not say last night if he would stay on as National leader, saying “that's a matter for the next few weeks for us to discuss among ourselves.”

Outgoing Prime Minister Bill English, about to become opposition leader, says National will be “by far the strongest opposition party” New Zealand has ever seen.

Speaking to reporters last night after New Zealand First leader Winston Peters threw his support behind a Labour-led government with the Greens sitting on the cross benches, Mr English said he was disappointed with the result but defiant in his outlook for the future.

“From here,” Mr English says, “the National party will regroup.”

Asked what type of opposition National will be, Mr English says “a large one.”

“For a party going into opposition, we’re in better shape than you’ve ever seen. We have talent, energy and ideas – we had a group of people who were geared up to be in government.”

He said National would fulfil the traditional job of holding the government to account.

Despite his tenacity, it is unclear if he will remain in the position as National Party leader saying “that’s a matter for the next few weeks for us to discuss among ourselves.”

On the campaign trail, he had previously said he would stay on as leader even if National was not re-elected as the government.

Mr English says he is “naturally disappointed” with the result “particularly for the 44.5% of people who voted for us.”

Mr English will be succeeded by Jacinda Ardern, who has become the youngest New Zealand Prime Minister in 160 years.

He says she gave a “fairly remarkable performance, especially given just 10-12 weeks ago she was the deputy leader of a failing opposition.”

And on any advice for his successor?

“Take the role very seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously,” the former Prime Minister says.

He also issued her a challenge – “New Zealanders have seen their country going in a positive direction and she has an opportunity to build on that.”

He also made mention of one of his major focuses as prime minister – social investment, where he says New Zealand can be doing a much better job for its vulnerable.

“I would hope that an incoming government will build on that progress as well.”

National’s track record
Mr English says he is pleased with the National party’s track record and “is proud that as an outgoing government, we have left New Zealand in great shape by an international measure.”

He dwelled on some of the economic challenges faced by the government during its tenure, including the global financial crisis.

When quizzed about what’s in store for New Zealand over the next few months, Mr English opted not to answer, only saying it’s a “different result than what the markets might have been expecting.”

He called National’s campaign “impressive and energising” and that was reflected in a “pretty impressive” election night result for a party that has been in government for nine years.

He says the party will have a caucus meeting next week to discuss last night’s outcome.

Asked if he feels robbed, as National won the most seats in the election, he says “this is just MMP in New Zealand.”

“It’s not a matter of moral authority, it’s a matter of taking on the responsibility of forming a government and we have not been successful in that.”

But he does admit that it is an “unusual result.”

“There probably isn’t a party anywhere else in the world that’s got 44.5% of the vote and didn’t win the election – but we all know the rules and we play by them.”

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