Jennifer Lees-Marshment is an associate professor of politics and international relations at the University of Auckland.

Although it may not have been timed as a strategic move, John Key's resignation gives National a much-needed excuse to refresh its brand and head into an election year with a much improved chance of victory. Not just in 2017, but in 2020 too.

Without doubt, Key has been an incredibly effective leader and will be seen as one of the most successful politicians in the world - good not just at winning elections, but at maintaining popularity against a series of opposition leaders. Furthermore, he has governed through various crises and seen New Zealand stay strong economically whilst many others flounder.

Key has led New Zealand to be more ambitious, dynamic and vibrant with a significant presence on the world stage.


However, all governments in power for a long time struggle to stay in touch. National didn't see the housing crisis coming, then denied it. Key did the same with the growing traffic issue in Auckland when he downplayed the chaos and delays Aucklanders face on the roads every day as "just a bit slower".

These are clearly the downsides of Key's time in office and without a leader to set a firm direction for "where next?" it will get worse.

As more people want to come to this country, pressures on housing, transportation, education and health will grow and our low-stress quality of life may be threatened.

So the question must be asked ... has Key's "Brighter Future" promised to us in 2008 lit up everyone's lives, or just the people at the top?

In the end, repeated lack of empathy towards ordinary citizens struggling to find a place to live and get to work has created a series of negative "brand nodes" which mean voters associate Key with an out-of-touch Government.

Against an ineffective Opposition, these problems might not be enough to lose the next election - but they did undermine the National brand.

Key's departure is therefore an opportunity for National to reflect and develop a new sense of direction.

One of the most effective political managers politics has seen, Key has handled his succession well. He is leaving at the right time with a highly capable team of ministers and a number of colleagues who could step into his shoes.


What wasn't so good was his decision to back Bill English as successor and ask for a quick timeframe.

The National Party needs space to reflect, regroup and imagine the potential - and need - for a new generation leader who offers a strong alternative direction that builds on Key's achievements but offers us something new.

Think inequality, diversity, gender, environment, fairness - for the economy to fully flourish, so must all the people in society. This vision must include reconnecting with the middle class professional floating voters Key attracted in 2008 but who have been waning since 2014 as they felt left behind in the "rock star" economy.

Despite his significant abilities, English would find it hard to create a new brand distinctive from the Key government he was so strongly part of as Deputy Prime Minister.

Whether others are brave enough to challenge Key's plan and look to the future in their thinking will determine not just the chances of winning in 2017, but in 2020.

National needs to seize this opportunity to find a leader with a new vision for the next stage. Not just more of the same.