When Bill English emerged from National's caucus retreat last week saying he had the full backing of his party for the leadership, it felt like a sign. They always say that stuff, right before they quit. I said at the time I felt uncomfortable with him saying that, because it often doesn't ring true with actual outcomes.
He was a steady pair of hands post their rockstar leader John Key's departure, and he's been dealt a fairly bad hand. His 27 years in politics hasn't reflected his talent, and although he's served the country well as a solid straight up and down political heavyweight, he's never really had the chance to truly shine.
I also thought he was performing well in opposition. He played the ball, not the (wo)man, he was considered, and strong. And that's another reason he could've stayed. He's one of presumably only a handful of men who could go up against Jacinda in this current climate, and not look like a chauvinistic mansplaining moron. A loving family man respectful of a fellow parent and politician.
I just hope he's truly made this decision of his own accord. That his comment about sitting on the couch staring out at the scenery in Dipton and thinking "wouldn't it be nice not to have to answer media questions" is true. Because if it is, then he'll be at peace with it, and he won't lose a minute's sleep over it. Families with parents in the public eye get a bum deal. A chance to be just Dad for a while will be welcome respite.
But if his departure is the result of Macchiavellian in-party antics, media pundits posturing that he should go, and a wave of subsequent self-doubt, then it's a shame.
So where to from here? Well, whoever steps into these shoes is going to be facing an election campaign with photo opps up against "popular young new Mum with small child on hip" versus ... who?
Judith Collins? Well if the idea is to freshen up the party image and update the old guard, then no, not her. Her bulldog style is of a time gone by surely?
Nikki Kaye? Young, check. Female, check. Fresh, Check.
Simon Bridges? Young, check.. etc.
But see what we're doing here? Look at the way we're reasoning a new leader. Look at what the speculators are presenting as criteria. We are talking style over substance. Why? Because that's the way politics has gone. It's an international trend we are not immune to, current PM case in point. Image is everything. Just ask Trump.
And with a party like National, steeped in experience and old guard players, any leader will be well supported by strong pillars of institutional knowledge. So the leader these days seemingly needs to be less experienced-political-juggernaut, and more mainstream consumable broad-based appeal mouthpiece. Jacinda is proving this.
So will they choose a placeholder or the real deal? Will the choice be made based on National sticking to its knitting and playing to its base, or wanting someone who can "go up against Jacinda". Will they go old school or fresh face?
We wait and watch.