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

Toby Manhire: Top contenders for the Labour Party back office

Helen Clark, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand and senior United Nations official. Photo / AP
Helen Clark, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand and senior United Nations official. Photo / AP

Precarious, unsettled, disrupted: few organisations are confronting the realities of the contemporary workplace quite so directly as the New Zealand Labour Party.

I refer not to their Future of Work Commission policy bandwagon, which is all very well, but to the party itself.

As everyone knows, the leadership position has been volatile in recent years, though the incumbent, Andrew Little, has now survived a mighty 21 months at the helm, making him the longest serving leader since Phil Goff (whatever happened to him? Is it true he now works in the accounts department at Mt Roskill Countdown?)

Today's more pressing employment challenge for the party is in the back office. The chief press secretary chair has been empty for some weeks, while the top job, chief of staff, is soon to become vacant, with the talismanic Matt McCarten moving to Auckland to do something-or-other.

With an election likely in little over a year - the last one was two years ago this month, believe it or not - the question of who takes on these roles is a serious matter, and warrants serious attention.

With a bit of luck Audrey Young or someone can do that. I'm more interested in pushing the boat out, and thinking outside it. Some suggestions, herewith, for the crucial new Labour staffers.

Richie McCaw

Bit of a long shot but may as well start at the top. As a popular Christchurch helicopter pilot and former co-captain of the All Blacks, McCaw is already an almost universally beloved figure, and that is only going to be reinforced thanks to his evolution into a matinee idol, as the star of the new film Chasing Great, which includes a number of previously undisclosed revelations about this singular New Zealand man-god, most notably that he likes doing the puzzles in the newspaper.

A clue to his political nous can be found in the working title for a sequel, Making Chasing Great Again, as well as his insight and fortitude in repelling daily advances from his former co-captain, John Key, to stick a "sir" in front of his name.

Even if he just took the job for five minutes or something, it could dramatically alter the course of New Zealand political history.

A Russian secret agent

Sounds barking, but hear me out. Helen Clark is currently languishing mid-pack in the race to become the next secretary-general of the United Nations, having received eight GTFO (or "discourage") votes in the third Security Council straw poll.

It is reasonable to speculate that there is at least one permanent member among those eight; and it is reasonable to speculate that if there is one, it is Russia.

So: get a Russian spy into the Labour machine; promise to let them plug quietly into the giant NSA/Prism spying machine; they drop the veto threat; Auntie Helen becomes the UN boss; Labour gets the credit and is elected government.

It might also help Donald Trump become president but you can't have everything.

Bit of a long shot, but not as much of a long shot as McCaw.

Helen Clark

Will probably be available soon. Certainly knows the ropes, also the rack, cattle prod, heretic's fork and instep borer.

Michael Cheika

Australian coach Michael Cheika. Photo / www.Photosport.nz
Australian coach Michael Cheika. Photo / www.Photosport.nz

A likelier contender from the rugby union code, Cheika would bring to the job considerable experience at having been repeatedly and feebly defeated by a better organised and fluent side captained by John Key.

Hurimoana Dennis

Te Puea Marae chairman Hurimoana Dennis. Photo / Nick Reed
Te Puea Marae chairman Hurimoana Dennis. Photo / Nick Reed

A crucial battlefield in the next general election will be Auckland, and the housing crisis will be the crucial battlefield in that battlefield, with opposition parties striving to overcome Nick Smith's wizardly efforts to pin responsibility on the last Labour government and bird droppings.

You could hardly find a more potent symbolic appointment as Chief of Staff, therefore, than the chairman of South Auckland's Te Puea Marae, which became a lightning rod for popular outcry when it opened its doors to homeless families.

While Dennis has worked with some of the most deprived and desperate people in the country, however, it's uncertain whether he'd consider politicians.

Goliath

Pros: Lots of experience dealing with difficult people called David.

Cons: A biblical character; if not fictional, certainly dead; awkwardly large; got killed by David.

Eliza McCartney

New Zealand's Eliza McCartney with her bronze medal. Photo / www.Photosport.nz
New Zealand's Eliza McCartney with her bronze medal. Photo / www.Photosport.nz

Everyone is so goonishly obsessed with how smiley and happy she is that they fail to recognise the Olympic-medal-winning 19-year-old may be in possession of rare razor-sharp political-strategic acumen. Also extremely good at the pole vault.

Robots

Sounds barking, but hear me out. In keeping with its forward-thinking Future of Work Commission, Labour could appoint robots to the key back-office roles.

If it goes well, a quota for automatons would be established for list positions, a Ministry for Vulnerable Robots established and Andrew Little's hardware quietly upgraded.

If it all goes belly-up, it would be hailed as living evidence of the folly in over-committing to a robot workforce.

Whoever stole those cows

Pretty appalling business, but if someone really did rustle 500 cattle from an Ashburton dairy station then they've got more than enough credentials to run the Labour Party.

Someone off The Real Housewives of Auckland or an Air NZ safety video

Ideally the Champagne Lady. Or Jeremy Corbyn or Tony Blair or Kim Dotcom or you or anyone at all really.

Harambe

Pros: An internet sensation, Harambe reaches out to young people with snackable, relatable content across a range of platforms. No one is better placed to engage the "missing million" that are certain to deliver victory to Labour.

Cons: A gorilla; dead.

- 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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