Former Prime Minister, long serving MP and genuinely good man, Bill English has more than earned the title conferred on him in the Queen’s Birthday honours.
Wallace, the electorate he first won, and Clutha Southland the biggest general electorate in the country, which it grew into under MMP were blue seats.
But it takes hard work, a genuine interest in people and the determination to make a positive difference for them to earn the loyalty and respect from constituents he did.
In the run up to the 2001 election and its aftermath he showed a lot more loyalty to his colleagues and some in the party than they did to him, but as he told us during the election campaign last year, he got back up again.
He did that through hard work, determination and focus not on ideology but on what was wrong and how to make it better.
Soon after he became Finance Minister he called a meeting of senior people from the welfare ministry. One question he asked was who was responsible for getting people off benefits.
The answer was no one. Bill said that had to change and under his leadership of the social investment approach it did.
The way New Zealand came through the GFC, the focus on the quality of spending rather than the quantity, and the willingness to spend more upfront to reduce long term costs are a very positive reflection on him.
So is the very healthy state that his government left the books in.
The position of Finance Minister demands gravitas. When he became Prime Minister he showed his warmth and wit, and also,the strength of his family.
He isn’t only a good politician, he was an exemplary boss.
One way to judge a politician is by the way they treat their staff. Joanne Black wrote this of Bill:
On my worst day in the Beehive, I inadvertently emailed a sensitive document to someone outside the building with the same name as the intended recipient, who worked for another minister. The person who received it behaved honourably and nothing came of it, and the next day it became public anyway, as intended.
But I will never forget my torment when I realised there was nothing I could do that could fix my error. That was the only occasion I have ever deliberately banged my head against something – my desk, in this case. (It hurt, and it didn’t bring back the email. I do not recommend it.)
Key’s chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson, came in to work out what to do. I went to Bill’s office and waited for a meeting to end so I could tell him what I’d done. He listened, looked down at his papers and said, “Bugger.”
Although my actions must have disappointed him, he did not raise an eyebrow, much less his voice. You need to be more than just a decent person to succeed in politics.
A minister and a Prime Minister who were not only politically on top of their game, but also believed in public service and were calm and humane in that high-stakes environment, inspired great staff loyalty. . .
Another way to judge a politician is by the way they value volunteers.
The grapevine told Bill that I was facing a very difficult situation. He was Prime Minister at the time and there were several particularly challenging matters he was dealing with but on a morning when he had many much more important matters to deal with, he took the time to phone me.
When I thanked him, I said we were immensely grateful for the practical and moral support we were getting, that it really did help to know people cared and that friends all round the world were praying for us. He said, “I will be too,” and meant it.
He is a good man who served his people and his country well. He is no longer in politics but he will still be in service.
For all that and more he has earned his knighthood.
The full Honours List is here.