Shane Jones created a lot of buzz at the New Zealand First conference over the weekend, despite not being in attendance.

The former Labour MP is heavily tipped to leave the diplomatic corps and stand for NZ First against a National MP in Whangarei.

His name was put to Winston Peters' media stand-ups.

Peters didn't seem annoyed. In fact, he named Whangarei as a seat they would likely target next year.

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The real interest in a return for Jones is the possibility he could eventually take over as leader.

Deputy leader Ron Mark started his own speech by talking about succession.

He said he thinks about what would happen if he died in a car crash during one of many trips over the Rimutakas: "I'm always talking to the caucus - one of you has to be prepared to step into my shoes."

The former military man had the crowd laughing and booing at his references to National and Labour, urging the grey-haired delegates to think of themselves as soldiers on the frontline.

But there was also a strange tangent, when Mark said Labour's recent criticism of Corrections came after it sought to cover-up the behaviour of a rogue prison guard "goon squad" when in government.

"Goon squad leaders were making their squad members put their penis on the bar so they could hit it with a beer bottle and show them how tough they are," Mark told the hall.

"That actually happened."

Even for a speech to fire up party delegates it was a bit much detail. And helps explain the speculation swirling around Jones.