Bill English is gone after 27 years in politics, but the former National leader says his legacy will remain in the form of the social investment policy.

"Social investment will roll on because ideas are powerful," he said.

"Knowledge is powerful, more powerful than Government."

An emotional English said goodbye to Parliament in his valedictory speech yesterday afternoon, a fortnight after he announced his resignation.

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At times overcome and struggling to speak, the former Prime Minister said the only regret he had was never having the chance to implement the "good stuff" National had planned if they won the 2017 election.

An poignant moment for former prime minister and National leader Bill English after delivering his valedictory speech in Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell
An poignant moment for former prime minister and National leader Bill English after delivering his valedictory speech in Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"But that's politics.

"You get great opportunities without having to earn them and they can be taken away just as easily."

English took the chance to thank the "brave public servants" who had helped him craft the social investment policies of which he remained fiercely proud.

Rigid systems created a Government that looked after the weakest members of society the worst, he said.

The only measure of a Government service's success should be the impact it has in reducing the "misery" of those it was created to help.

"The core of my belief, and it comes from Catholic theology, to some extent National Party principles, is the utter integrity of the individual person. Their importance," he said.

Former PM and National leader Bill English during an emotional moment as he bids goodbye to a 27-year political career. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Former PM and National leader Bill English during an emotional moment as he bids goodbye to a 27-year political career. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"Our obligation to them to ensure they can realise their aspirations, their full humanity. And much of what Government does doesn't do that.

"And that's a shame, because I've never met a person in 27 years who had no hope. Never. Not one. Including the worst of our offenders, and I've met them.

"There's always some hope. In fact often that's all they have."

English also focused on his hometown of Dipton and the other towns in the Clutha-Southland electorate he represented for most of his career.

He spoke of the "laconic determination" of its people, the resilience of the towns and recalled the impact the reforms of Rogernomics had on those small communities.

It taught him how to deal with the Global Financial Crisis.

"I'm pleased that years later we acted in a way that meant we could avoid that kind of disruption."

He peppered his speech with jokes and amusing stories of his time in politics, including taking part in the Fight for Life in 2002.

His coach was Chris Kenny and he asked Kenny why he wanted to get in the ring with him.

"Mate, It's because you're a Tory and I wanna hit you," Kenny had replied.

Old parliamentary friends, including former MPs Roger Sowry, Te Ururoa Flavell and John Carter were also there to watch, as well as former staff and Government department officials, including former Reserve Bank Governor Graeme Wheeler.

All six of English's children and his wife Mary were present in the gallery, and it was while he was speaking of them that English appeared most overcome by emotion.

His sons were seen borrowing their mum's handkerchief to wipe away their own tears.

"It's our togetherness that matters, and the great gift of my leaving politics will be we can recraft that sense of togetherness," English said, his voice breaking.

English remained proud of his social investment policies, and thanked public servants for their work helping him craft them. Photo / Mark Mitchell
English remained proud of his social investment policies, and thanked public servants for their work helping him craft them. Photo / Mark Mitchell

After collecting himself, English wrapped up the nearly hour-long speech with a line from James K Baxter's poem New Zealand.

"These unshaped islands, on the sawyer's bench, Wait for the chisel of the mind," English recited before pausing to wipe a tear from his eye.

"On March 13 when I officially resign … it will be 10,000 days since I was elected.

"I'm satisfied that every day I took my turn at the chisel."

Politicians, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, shook English's hand and embraced him and a waiata was performed.

Bill English hugging fellow
Bill English hugging fellow "brat pack" MP Nick Smith after delivering his valedictory speech. Photo / Mark Mitchell