Bill English seems more comfortable talking about his hair than speculation over the National Party leadership.

He's certain he's not dying his hair, he says, but as to whether he will be leading the party into a 2020 election, he would not categorically say yes or no.

It will be "dependent on performance ... I have been in opposition before, and I know what that is like."

English avoided a grilling at Tauranga MP Simon Bridges' barbecue last evening, arriving in the Bay of Plenty only this morning for a two-day caucus meeting at Trinity Wharf Hotel Tauranga.


Faced with questions about whether he will step down as party leader, English admitted he had thought about it after the election,

"Well, I think everyone, after they lose an election, has a think about it."

But English added the conference's focus was "looking forward to 2020 ... getting organised ... setting the path out for 2020".

Asked whether he would be the one leading National in two years, he said it depended on "performance".

On a lighter note - or not - he answered speculation as to whether he was getting blonde highlights.

On Waitangi Day at Te Rau Aroha Bluff Marae, English posted a photograph of himself, Amy Adams and a tuatara in which he seemed to be sporting blond hair, causing speculation as to whether he had had a makeover.

One commenter posted: "Nice highlights, Bill".

But in Tauranga, English told the Bay of Plenty Times the hair colour was natural.

"It's all the sun we have been having in Southland," he said.

National MPs at the party's conference at Trinity Wharf. Photo / Andrew Warner
National MPs at the party's conference at Trinity Wharf. Photo / Andrew Warner

Trinity Wharf's waterside restaurant was filled with a sea of blue - and pink - as National members gathered for coffee before entering the lockdown conference, where they had to leave their cellphones at the meeting room door.

Among the women, flowers and pink seemed to be the theme, including for two possible contenders for future leadership, deputy leader Paula Bennett in a bright pink dress and Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye in a millennial pink blouse and white pants.

"It's trending," said Bennett

"It's the colour of love," said Kaye.

Tauranga MP Simon Bridges added: "It is the colour of positivity, and I think we are all in this positive mood."

He joked he didn't get "the pink memo", and was dressed in a blue-checked blazer, blue shirt and dark blue jeans.

Checks seemed to be the over-riding trend for many National MPs, with Hutt Valley MP Chris Bishop combining both fashion trends with a pink-checked shirt.

Jonathan Coleman stood out from the crowd for being ultra casual in a polo shirt.

One observer whispered: "Does it mean he doesn't care any more? Or is that the impression he is trying to give so he can make a stealth attack."

Bridges agreed every caucus detail was under scrutiny for some "higher meaning".

Political commentators had speculated whether last night's barbecue at Bridges' Matua home, which English did not attend would be the scene of leadership talks or even coups.

"It's silly stuff," said Bridges. "We got together, about 30 of us and it was a great evening ... we had steaks, lamb koftas, pork sausages and salads. The highlight for me was the garden salad the MP for Hamilton East (David Bennett) brought from his own back yard, though it was quite small."

It wasn't a heavy night, said Bridges.

"There was beer, wine and soft drinks but we had pretty much wrapped up by 10pm knowing we have a big job [ahead]."

Earlier today, Bridges led a group of MPs to climb Mauao.

"Some even ran down. Brett Hudson even ran the 17km back to the hotel ... the rest of them took taxis."

As to the significance of the retreat being in his own electorate, Bridges said it was Paula Bennett who picked the venue.

"It's a great chance for them to see the city."

The members were to dine privately at the hotel on tonight, with meetings continuing tomorrow with a break in the afternoon for informal drinks at Mount eatery Hide, Thirst and Hunger.

English was to fly out of Tauranga tomorrow, but MPs staying for Saturday are attending the annual National Party garden party at the historic Maungawhare Homestead.

The phones party members had to leave outside the door at Thursday's meeting.
The phones party members had to leave outside the door at Thursday's meeting.

So, all in all, the National gathering appears to be going smoothly apart from a minor kerfuffle when everyone left their phones outside the meeting room and one wouldn't stop ringing.

Staff frantically tried to work out which one it was. Was it a rogue alarm or was the future party leader being phoned?

Eventually the ringing iPhone was located among the sea of phones.

It was Nikki Kaye's.