The right time to go?
Whatever the Prime Minister's protestations, the 'right time' to go would have been mid-way through his next term as Prime Minister, once the National Party had replenished its stocks at next year's election and a more obvious leader-in-waiting had been groomed.
As it is the Nats are likely to go - not least because John Key is recommending it - for Bill English as leader. Back to the future and all that.
It's unkind to say it, but it's also true. Bill English led the National Party to its worst election result.
In 2002 under his leadership the party mustered just under 21% of the vote. Helen Clark's Labour Party took over 41% that year.
I remember attending one of those expensive corporate seminars in 1992. One of the speakers was a then backbencher called Bill English. Confession time: I hadn't heard of him. Well, he spoke about the life of a backbencher and he was terrific. Wow, I thought: This guy is going to be Prime Minister. That's how good he was.
Somehow or other though, when it came to conveying the obvious warmth and ability that he had, English always came up short. And he was left horribly exposed in that 2002 campaign.
Maybe John Key is right. Maybe National is in a different place now. But the question would remain about English. Strong as he has been in the trusted lieutenant Finance Minister role, you've got to wonder if those old doubts will return.
I've seen English, as Finance Minister, front a few functions with business leaders - and in those forums he's terrific. He looks comfortable and in charge and reminds me a lot of the backbencher Bill English that made such an impression on me. But as for whether he can somehow put that image across to a wider audience - when he cataclysmically failed before, well that's going to be the question. I have my serious doubts.
The upshot is that from being a foregone conclusion, next year's election campaign is suddenly all-on.
To go back to Key's assertion that this was the right time to go. Well, no. Because the succession plan was not in place.
John Key's been a fantastically successful business person. And it was always clear that he would want to bow out of politics at the top and at a time when he was still young enough to go on and do more things in business.
There will be companies now salivating at the idea of having him as a director.
If it had always been Key's intention not to seek a fourth term, then logic would have suggested he step down perhaps a year ago. Personally I think you've got to believe that he had decided to go for a fourth term, with the idea of stepping down probably a year or 18 months into the next term. But then, for whatever reason, he changed his mind.
I'm sorry, I don't buy Key's argument that the party is in good shape in terms of its Parliamentary strength. You only have to see how media issues blow up and crises seem to happen whenever Key leaves the country. The fact is he is a very strong leader, surrounded in the most part by people who have only a fraction of his talent. He would not be easily replaced in any case, but National have seemingly not even properly got under way with steps to replace him.
An extra two years or more of Key at the helm would have given National the opportunity to more thoroughly get a succession plan in place. I find it difficult to imagine English being seen as more than a stop-gap.
So, wake up everybody. Next year's election suddenly got real interesting.