The former New Zealand prime minister Bill English has resigned as leader of the opposition less than six months after being defeated by Labour’s “stardust” Jacinda Ardern.
Speculation had been building for weeks that English would step aside, and the decision became clear after the National party met for a two-day conference in Tauranga last week.
“Now is the right time for me to step aside and embark on new professional and personal challenges. I informed the National caucus this morning that I am resigning as leader of the National party,” English said at an emotional press conference on Tuesday morning, in which he teared up and had difficulty speaking.
“I believe this will give National’s new leader time to prepare the party for the 2020 election. It has been a huge privilege to lead the party and serve in politics.”
English said he would step aside on 27 February and the party would then vote on a new leader and deputy leader to take them to the 2020 election.
National secured 46% of the vote in the 2017 September election, giving it 58 seats in parliament, while Labour took home 35.8% and 45 seats.
After weeks of deliberation kingmaker Winston Peters threw his support behind the Labour party, allowing them to form a coalition government with the Greens, with Ardern as prime minister.
Ardern was one of the first to thank English for his public service after he announced his resignation.
English – who entered politics from the Clutha-Southland district 27 years ago – is a former farmer and English literature graduate who has six children and is a practising Roman Catholic.
Nicknamed “Boring Bill English”, he led the National party to its worst ever defeat in 2002 and struggled to match Ardern’s star appeal at the last election. English lacked the X factor that endeared John Key and Ardern to the New Zealand public.
But his tenure was not entirely without drama. English made international news when he put tinned spaghetti on to a pizza he was making for his children and shared the creation on Facebook. The recipe was decried worldwide as “monstrous”.
In a first for the socially conservative leader who voted against same-sex marriage, euthanasia and decriminalising abortion, English teared up when announcing his resignation, flanked by his wife, Mary, several of his children and his senior ministers.
The former finance minister said navigating New Zealand through the global financial crisis and helping the economy grow were high points of his time with the party, though leading the country as prime minister was “definitely” his biggest achievement.
English said after nearly three decades in politics he was ready to step out of the spotlight and embark on a new chapter with his family, and that opportunities in business, agriculture and other fields awaited him.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wished Bill English the best on the next phase of his career and said he had worked “tirelessly” in his many roles in parliament.
“He has always stood for what he believes in. He is a man of clear convictions who has always had a genuine concern for the well-being of New Zealanders, and gave a huge portion of his working life to serving on their behalf.” Ardern said in a statement
“The impact of public service on a politician’s family cannot be understated. In the 27 years Bill served as an MP, with the support of his wife Mary, his children were born, and grew up. They have made great sacrifices so he could do his job to the best of his ability.”
Professor Raymond Miller, a political scientist from Auckland University, said despite being in parliament for close to three decades English remained something of an “enigma” and his greatest strength was a perceived stability he brought to government, while his greatest weakness was his enduring “inability to excite the public”.
The former deputy prime minister Paula Bennett is a frontrunner for the leadership of the National party, and said English would be greatly missed.
“Bill is a man that has incredible mana and respect, he has lead us incredibly well, we are going to miss him, and miss him a lot,” said Bennett.
“I don’t think New Zealand fully appreciates the depth of his thinking.”
This story was originally published in theguardian