Tauranga MP Simon Bridges is being touted as a front-runner to step in as leader of the National Party following Bill English's announcement yesterday that he would step down.

English's last day on the job would be February 27.

Bridges yesterday would not comment on whether he would put his hand up for the leadership, only saying it had been an honour to work with English.

"He has spent his adult life in exemplary service to the National Party, government and New Zealand. He was a policy heavyweight but also a tremendous wit," Bridges said.


"It's sad to see him go but I wish him, Mary and his whanau every happiness and success in the future."

Bridges said he was unable to get to caucus due to flight cancellations from Tauranga. He drove to Auckland and caught the first flight out but arrived after the caucus meeting.

However, city leaders and commentators yesterday said Bridges was a strong contender for the role. Some also believed Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller could be in the frame for the role.

NZ Herald

's deputy political editor Claire Trevett highlighted Bridges as a potential candidate for the top job, saying he was "young enough to be 'new generation' change but experienced enough to know what he's doing".

The Spinoff editor Toby Manhire listed Bridges as the number one contender to replace English because of his "appetite for further promotion, proving there's mongrel beneath the Brylcreem. He's young, he's Maori, he shows flashes of wit".

Western Bay of Plenty District Councillor Margaret Murray-Benge and Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stan Gregec also believed Bridges would make a good leader.

Murray-Benge said she met with Bridges on Monday and made it clear she would like to see him lead the National Party.

She wanted to see Bridges and Judith Collins leading the National Party because together they could combat Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's popularity.

"Judith has the ability to say no, Simon has the experience to make things happen," Murray-Benge said.

English had served the country well and respected his decision to stand down, she said.

Gregec said National had a lot of talent - including Tauranga and Bay of Plenty MPs Simon Bridges and Todd Muller.

"Our own local MPs Simon Bridges and Todd Muller would both have a lot to offer in leadership roles - with Simon clearly being talked about as one of the front-runners to replace Bill.

"I think he would have the experience and support to be a credible successor – or deputy."

Muller said English stood down on his own terms which was "the only way this was ever going to be" because of the respect his caucus had for him.

During last year's campaign, Muller remembered walking through Papamoa Plaza with English.

"Most leaders would have taken the photo opportunity – smiled, waved and moved on – but not Bill," Muller said.

"He stopped and spoke with everyone who wanted to chat and you got a real sense that he genuinely wanted to engage with each and every personal story. For me, that is a testament to the man."

New Zealand First Tauranga MP Clayton Mitchell picked Muller as the best man to fill English's shoes.

"Todd is a person who has got the right approach to politics. I think he has got the experience and good leadership skills," Mitchell said.

He said English's legacy was his honesty.

"He was very responsible with money and was a good steady pair of hands. His honesty has really shone through for me."

Bay of Plenty Labour MP Angie Warren-Clark said English's resignation was a matter for the National Party and did not wish to comment further.

Tauranga's mayor Greg Brownless said it was "next to impossible" to pick who would take over as leader of the National Party.

"Naturally, if it was someone from our area, I think that would be good for us overall. No matter which party someone's from, it's good to have representation here and it's good to have profile both in Government MPs and Opposition MPs."

Western Bay of Plenty Mayor Garry Webber said "wouldn't even want to go there" when asked if he had any picks of who could take over.

On the street: Who should be the next leader of the National Party?

"I'd like to see Paula Bennett. I think she's young, I do like how she comes across on television, I think she's a nice person and I think she would be very good in the future for New Zealand."

Mary Anderson, Bureta, 69

"Simon Bridges maybe. He's done pretty well over the years and done pretty well for Tauranga I think."

Chris Akenson, The Avenues, 43

"Amy Adams because she has some intelligence and a proven track record."

Chris Brown, Whakamarama, 68

"Simon Bridges. Why not get another young one in there and give Jacinda a run for her money."

Deanne Stewart, Matua, 55