Opposition parties have given generous tributes to departing Prime Minister John Key and are refusing to speculate on whether their chances of election have improved.

But Labour and Greens appeared quietly thrilled yesterday as they considered an election campaign next year without the popular, formidable Key.

At a press conference at Parliament, Labour leader Andrew Little would not comment on whether National were weaker without their leader of 10 years.

"Today is a day to say to him: Thank you for serving New Zealand and for serving New Zealand well," Little said.


Green Party co-leader James Shaw, while noting that Key's departure "clearly changes things", was similarly gracious.

"Today we just want to say - eight years, thanks very much for your service," Shaw said.

"It is a very tough job, and I don't think it matters what side of the political spectrum you are ... you have to acknowledge that it is very difficult, very tough on families."

But Little also spoke with new confidence about the task ahead.

"We are ready to go. We have proven that. We proved it in the weekend [in Mt Roskill]. We proved it in the local government elections.

"I am ready to go and have the arguments, and to rise to the challenges for New Zealand as soon as possible."

Little made a point of underlining Labour's stability, saying the party's front bench would remain unchanged until the election. So often the party whose internal divisions are on display, Labour appeared to be relishing the prospect of a potentially messy National Party leadership contest.

Standing next to him, Labour's deputy leader Annette King struggled to contain her grin.


"I think politics is a very uncertain game," King told reporters. "I've been around long enough to ... expect the unexpected."

Little, whose party is coming off a landslide byelection win in Mt Roskill, spent most of his press conference applauding Key's record. Asked about his legacy, Little pointed to Key's leadership following the global financial crisis and several natural disasters.

"The role of Prime Minister is a tough gig at any time," Little said.

"It is hugely challenging, not only in the role but for family members.

"I want to pay tribute to the contribution that John Key has made to New Zealand in his time as Prime Minister."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters was less generous, saying that Key's reasons for standing down were "not credible". He said Key was leaving because the economy was no longer healthy and his Government was no longer able to "muddy the waters".


Meanwhile, National's support partners were questioning where they stood yesterday.

"The ball game has changed," said United Future leader Peter Dunne, who has benefited from National endorsements in the past two elections.

"It is not clear how. But Key is a dominant figure. He is not around to be around the scene. I think there's a while lot of questions but it's far too soon to attempt to answer them."

Maori Party co-leaders Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox said they were confident the new Prime Minister would continue a "mana enhancing" relationship with the Maori Party.