Prime Minister John Key has all but confirmed that the general election will be in late November or early December and he has indicated he will leave politics if he cannot lead the country to a second term in Government.

His candour on both subjects - the election and his future - breaks the convention of Governments and Prime Ministers.

Mr Key made the comments in an interview with the Herald about the year ahead, given before he left for his summer holiday in Hawaii.

The timing of the Rugby World Cup, from September 9 to October 23, limits the Government's election options, but it is still common for governing parties to say nothing about the timing - in order to leave their opponents guessing.

"I would be very reluctant to go early," Mr Key said when asked what reason there could be for holding an election earlier than November.

"You can never say never, but my view is that the electoral cycle [three years] is quite short. In return for a relatively short cycle, the voters expect you to go the distance."

The comments will be very helpful to Labour.

He also said he had made it reasonably clear that he did not want to revert to being Opposition leader.

"I don't think it suits me as a person. I'm not a negative person and a lot of Opposition is negative."

Mr Key said that 2011 election would be challenging for the fact that "essentially there is no money".

"There won't be money for us and there won't be money for Labour," the PM said.

Sensitive to perceptions that the Government is not doing enough, he claimed in his interview with the Herald - and repeatedly in other media - that there is a lot going on behind the scenes that people did not see, such as getting public sector savings.

Among the major issues on the political agenda is whether to extend the Special Air Service's mission in Kabul and some forward thinking about the provincial reconstruction team's handover to civilian development experts in Bamiyan province.

Mr Key says he will also start turning his mind seriously to finding a replacement for Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand whose term expires on August 23. He said he had not yet had a serious conversation with senior ministers about it.

But he had fired off one name to a colleague and the response had been, "Don't even think about it".

"Untrustworthy and obnoxious" is what his ministerial colleague had thought about the suggestion, which remains unknown.

One of the first things on the political agenda will be the Botany byelection on March 5, following the resignation from the Cabinet and then the House of Pansy Wong over the use of parliamentary subsidised travel.

It will be the third byelection this term, after Mt Albert last year, following the resignation of former Prime Minister Helen Clark, and Mana following the resignation of Labour MP Winnie Laban.