Mitchell declares candidacy for National Party leadership

National Party leadership candidate, Mark Mitchell. Photo by Lynn Grieveson

Former Defence Minister Mark Mitchell has announced his candidacy for the National Party leadership. Thomas Coughlan reports.

Former Defence Minister Mark Mitchell has announced that he will stand for the National Party leadership.

Since Bill English announced his resignation last Tuesday, Mark Mitchell had been touted as an outside contender for the leadership. Mitchell himself was open last week that he was considering whether to thow his hat into the ring, but said that he would hold off making an announcement until Monday.

In a speech at the surf lifesaving club at Orewa, his home town, with his wife Peggy Bourne, Mitchell said that his candidacy represented "strong leadership".

Strong leadership looks like it will be a key theme of Mitchell's campaign. When asked the one word that represented his candidacy, Mitchell replied, "strong leadership", when it was pointed out that this was two words, Mitchell responded, just "leadership".

He revealed that three weeks ago, before English announced his resignation, caucus colleagues approached him to consider the leadership. He was keen to underline that these colleagues were not asking him to roll English, but to "think about the future".

Other details to emerge from Mitchell's conference were the news that he would like Steven Joyce to stay on as Finance Spokesperson should he win the leadership and that former National Party staffer Clark Hennessy had been helping with the campaign.

Hennessy is an interesting choice for Mitchell. He was one of the National Party staffers included in a legal action over the release of Winston Peters' superannuation overpayment. One of the supposed strengths of Mitchell's candidacy is his good relationship with Peters, who National will likely need as a future coalition partner.

Mitchell was happy to talk up his apparently good relationship with Winston Peters, but he did note that as a member of the current Government, he would scrutinise Peters' performance.

Mitchell entered parliament in 2011 for the safe National seat of Rodney. He is known to be popular in the caucus and became Minister of Defence under Bill English. He is a former police dog handler and member of the armed offenders squad. After leaving the police in 2003 he became an international security contractor, working for several firms and spending time in Iraq. His grandfather, Frank Gill, was a cabinet minister in Robert Muldoon's Government.

The three other leadership contenders are Judith Collins, Simon Bridges, and Amy Adams, all former ministers in the last National government. Jonathan Coleman and Nikki Kaye, who had both been talked up as potential contenders, both ruled themselves out last week.

The only other possible contender remaining undeclared is former Finance Minister and campaign manager Steven Joyce. Mitchell said he had not spoken to Joyce about his candidacy.