Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire: Helen Clark can unite (almost) all of us

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National dose of warm, fuzzy pride just what we need.

More than once this week, Helen Clark dusted off a line made famous by Martin Snedden at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Having launched her campaign for the role of United Nations Secretary-General, the former Prime Minister said she felt like she had a stadium of four million cheering her on.

But what, the retentive among us wondered, about the other 675-odd-thousand others that make up the New Zealand population? Small children would account for some; others are catatonically indifferent to all things political.

There is another group, too, unwilling to line up with Team Helen-for-SG: at one end of the spectrum are those within whom loathing for the long-serving Labour Prime Minister courses so deep they couldn't possibly support her for such a job. At the other are those within whom loathing for the long-serving National Prime Minister courses so deep they couldn't possibly support anyone John Key endorses.

Whether the enthusiasm for Helen Clark's candidacy from the rest of us will make a lot of difference is hard to say. If nothing else it will give her a fillip. There is not a lot anyone can do to overcome her main drawback: not coming from eastern Europe, the region that many say convention dictates should deliver the next UN boss. No matter how often her remaining detractors in the online sewers regurgitate the hoary "Helengrad" tag, no one is going to buy the idea she comes from a Soviet city.

Instead, Helen Clark is categorised, according to the vagaries of the United Nations, as coming from the "Western Europe and others" bloc. So is Kevin Rudd, the former Australian PM who appears determined to stand despite having about as much chance as Dora the Explorer. Rudd faces higher hurdles than Helen Clark. There's not being Eastern European. He's also not a woman " and there is a mood to finally appoint a woman to the job. Then there's the matter of hometown support. While Canberra is pretty much obliged to back the self-described "happy little Vegemite" if he does stand " overturning an earlier commitment from Tony Abbott to support Helen " he is, to put it mildly, a polarising figure. His former rivals in the Liberal Party are only outdone in their dislike for him by his enemies in the Labor Party he once led.

For the first time, the General Assembly has a role in the appointment process, and declared candidates will next week front for UN-style hustings, where they'll no doubt be asked "Have you ever banked with Mossack Fonseca?" and "What wine would you serve at a summit with premiers Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump?" But the decision in effect remains with the leaders of the US, Britain, France, China and Russia, each of which wields veto power.

Who knows what historical resentments and horse-trading might come into play. Helen Clark is probably the best qualified, but the likeliest victor remains Bulgarian Irina Bokova, who is head of the UN's science, culture and education agency Unesco, Eastern European and a woman.

Warm fuzziness aside, it's hard to see any real boon for New Zealand should Helen make it. Has Ban Ki-moon made the world think differently about South Korea? Can you even remember which west African state Kofi Annan comes from? (Clue: it's Ghana.)

But in one sense her campaign could not come at a better time. After the weird and petty antagonism of the f**g debate, the rallying around a national standard-bearer is a welcome opportunity to come together in a warm, national embrace about something which is symbolically important but not a lot more. The campaign can be a kind of Fisherman's Friend for the nation. If it delivers even a skerrick of national bonhomie, a few hundred thousand from the government purse is money well spent.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire is a Wellington bred, Auckland based journalist. He writes a weekly column for the NZ Herald, the NZ Listener's Internaut column, blogs for listener.co.nz, and contributes to the Guardian. From 2000 to 2010 he worked at the Guardian in London, and edited the 2012 book The Arab Spring: Rebellion, Revolution and a New World Order.

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