English, Bill (New Zealand)

Reference work entry


Bill English took office as prime minister on 12 Dec. 2016 after winning the National Party’s leadership contest unopposed. The election was triggered when John Key unexpectedly announced his resignation the previous week.

Early Life

Born on 30 Dec. 1961 in Lumsden, Simon William English graduated in economics from the University of Otago before reading English at Victoria University of Wellington. He joined the National Party in 1980 and was an analyst for the Treasury before returning to work for his family’s farm in Dipton.

In 1990 he became the member of parliament for Wallace (now Clutha-Southland), a seat he held until 2014 when he became a list MP. He was elevated to the Cabinet in 1996 as minister for crown health enterprises and associate minister of education. He subsequently oversaw the health and education portfolios before becoming finance minister in 1999. However, he was in the post for only a few months before the National Party lost the general election that year.

English became leader of the National Party in 2001 but the party then suffered its worst-ever election defeat the following year, receiving just over 20% of votes. In Oct. 2003 he was replaced as leader by Don Brash. Following Brash’s resignation in Nov. 2006, English became deputy leader under John Key. When the National Party won the general election in 2008, English was appointed deputy prime minister, minister of finance and minister of infrastructure. On 5 Dec. 2016 Key resigned as prime minister and National Party leader. He endorsed English as his successor, and English subsequently won the party leadership unopposed—a result that saw him automatically take over as premier.

Career Peak

A devout Roman Catholic known for his social conservatism, English entered office with a track record of opposing abortion, civil unions and gay marriage, euthanasia and the decriminalization of prostitution. He inherited a healthy economy and a budget surplus, but faces challenges including overseeing recovery from the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake, addressing the housing crisis and keeping the financial markets stable. In Oct. 2017, shortly after leading the National Party in obtaining a majority of seats at the parliamentary elections, he was replaced as premier by Jacinda Ardern, leader of the Labour Party, who formed a coalition with New Zealand First and the Greens.

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© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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