The Labour Party was quietly thrilled last week after getting over the shock of John Key’s resignation as Prime Minister and his endorsement of Bill English.
It has less reason to be thrilled after English’s election as leader and appointment as Prime Minister.
In a 40-minute press conference English showed a political dexterity that would have matched Key and a depth that surpassed him.
Key was usually well briefed and could answer most questions.
Even when he nothing to say, he could say it rather well.
But English, after a life-long relationship with the National Party, 26 years in Parliament and eight years as Finance Minister, has an unrivalled breadth of knowledge about New Zealand, its constitution, its history, Government, economy and politics.
And yesterday, all of that was on display.
Bill is not and won’t be John. But he is a politician who is now comfortable in himself, who has a mastery of detail and it has been years since I have seen him have an uncomfortable question time.
The English story is an ongoing and forward story; his idea is to concretely tackle social ills through the social investment approach, in parallel with a healthy economy.
A healthy economy allows you to generate the tax revenue for the social investment, and the big thing English has pushed through (and Bennett) is that this should not just be untargeted spending, but spending on the most vulnerable.
English could be a harder target for Labour than it thinks.
The change of leadership in National gives Labour an opportunity – to become relevant. They may be able to seize that opportunity and life their polling to the high 30s where a Labour/Green Government becomes a possibility. Otherwise it will remain a choice between a National-led Government or Winston deciding.