The advantage Bill English has when he forms his new Government next week is that he won't be burdened by high expectations.

Not from the public anyway.

The conventional wisdom is that he won't be able to match John Key's leadership skills and that it will be much harder for National to win a fourth term under English.

English's own colleagues, however, have set high expectations of him if only for their own sense of advancement and survival.


And before he can turn his mind to the election, he has to get his own party's house in order.

Organisationally, it is in good shape and not much will change. National Party president Peter Goodfellow is not expecting an early election but planning is well under way for next year's election.

"We're ready in the sense that we have got a campaign structure, and a campaign chair and we've got all our planning, but our planning is for a general election that is a bit further away."

Steven Joyce, the incoming Finance Minister, has already been confirmed as campaign chair as he has been for the previous four election campaigns.

Goodfellow does not see the fundamentals changing in terms of preparations.

"I think what has come out of this week in particular, the change at the top, is that we'll need fresh faces for sure but there has always been an acceptance ... that we need some really fresh ideas for 2017.

"It is not about re-electing a Government. It's actually about a campaign that persuades voters that we have a plan for the next three to five years."

Goodfellow does not expect the change in leadership to change the generosity of party backers.


"The backers of the National Party are really there for what the party is standing for and what it is doing."

"Yes, John Key has been a phenomenally popular Prime Minister and leader of the party but I think the funders will have the same attitude under the new leadership as well."

Paula Bennett and Bill English attend the state housing consultation meeting. Photo / Dean Purcell
Paula Bennett and Bill English attend the state housing consultation meeting. Photo / Dean Purcell
Bill English and John Key in Key's ninth-floor Beehive office. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Bill English and John Key in Key's ninth-floor Beehive office. Photo / Mark Mitchell


Even if Key had remained, housing is an area that needs a big improvement in its political management, and was on track to be one of the defining issues of next year's campaign and that won't change.

The problems have beset National on three fronts, private sector housing affordability, state housing and emergency housing, all fronted by one of Labour's most effective spokesmen, Phil Twyford.

Despite Smith's best efforts, the imperative of putting someone new into that role is overwhelming, perhaps someone like Adams.

Twyford, who is also Labour election campaign chair, said the campaign team had been meeting on and off all week to discuss developments.

"I think the phone is back on the hook for Labour and there is a strong sense now that we will be back in the game and that there will be a furious contest, principally between Labour and National," he said.

The political debate over the next few months would be critical as the electorate sized up English and what the loss of John Key meant for National's support.

"There is no doubt that Key exercised a powerful grip on the electorate by force of personality and I don't think English has that."

Part of Labour's frustration is that despite virtually all polls this year showing a real possibility of a Labour-led Government with Greens and New Zealand First, it still has not sunk in to the electorate that it was an even contest with Key.

Key's and National's popularity masked the fact that the combined size of the Opposition parties posed a real challenge to National getting a fourth term.

So will the election be a more even contest on the issue of leadership between two leaders in Little and English who are steady types with no charisma?

"The electorate is still getting to know Andrew and we are confident that he has got qualities that people will really relate to but it will be a much more equal contest and that gives us hope that we are in the game."

In terms of housing, Twyford was certain there would be no change in terms of it being right up there as one of the biggest battleground issues next election.

English had been the architect of National's response on housing "right from selling off state houses through to a deep reluctance to intervene in the market too much," said Twyford.

"The housing crisis is basically an albatross around his neck."

Bill English and his wife Mary proudly pose with Xavier at their Wellington home. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Bill English and his wife Mary proudly pose with Xavier at their Wellington home. Photo / Mark Mitchell

He was not sure whether English would change his approach as Prime Minister.

"But English doesn't strike me as having the same free-wheeling pragmatism that Key had on a lot of these issues. He is deeply ideological."

He was a small-Government conservative who thought provision of social housing was best done by others, not the Government.

"I'd be surprised if we saw a loosening up and a willingness to try different approaches," he said.

Even if there was a change in approach, there would be very little that could be done within its current policy range that would make a difference before the election.

Labour leader Andrew Little has been adamant all week that the leadership will not change the issues around which Labour will campaign, such as health, education, housing and transport.

"I said to caucus we are not going to get into hubris or arrogance or anything. Yes it will change the dynamics of the campaign next year because we are not up against the personality we thought we'd be up against.

"But we've still got our work to do if poll results are anything to go by and we've got a campaign plan and a strategy that we've been putting together.

"That doesn't change a great deal."

Greens co-leader James Shaw said at one level it did not change the parties' priorities: climate change, housing, inequality, river quality.

"At another level I think you have got to acknowledge that it does change the landscape considerably because obviously a pretty significant part of National's popularity and standing was down to his personal popularity."

"But I'm pretty cautious about overstating that effect."

Bill English was probably a significant part of why National had remained fairly popular over time.

"Key was a sales guy, right? You've got to acknowledge that English has been the philosophical and intellectual engine at the heart of the National Government.

"So I don't simply think moving him from finance to PM will somehow unleash him to do something significantly different from what they have been as a Government for the last eight years."