We always knew Helen Clark was highly competent, politically astute and had a sharp mind. It's true she was more respected than adored by the masses, as had been some of her Labour predecessors. She has always been somewhat awkward, and there's a shyness which is mistaken for aloofness. But anyone who meets Clark one-on-one discovers she is pleasantly personable and great company.

In my mind Clark has been New Zealand's best prime minister, from either party, since Peter Fraser. She ranks alongside Michael Joseph Savage and Fraser in stature.

With Clark, and now John Key, we've been spoiled having an intelligent and uncorrupted politician leading our country. We therefore forget this isn't the norm in most other parts of the world.

When former Labour leader Mike Moore got the top job at the World Trade Organisation and National's Don McKinnon got to lead the Commonwealth we thought they'd just got a lucky break.

Clark's appointment to the United Nations' number three job is a big deal. We'd all like to think New Zealand is regarded highly as a global citizen. However I suspect Clark got her new job on merit alone.

Except for the boorish bad manners exhibited by one of the Act MPs, all her political opponents and colleagues warmly gave her a standing ovation on her final day in Parliament. Political careers inevitably end in defeat, but Clark's election loss paradoxically opened an even bigger political pool to play in.

When she took the helm of the Labour Party it was in a state of civil war in the aftermath of the Rogernomics experiment. She saved the Labour Party and moulded it to her liking.

Labour's MPs are used to being told what to do. That was fine for Clark but the problem for new leader Phil Goff is he has a party full of supposed talent, but they all look and act like mid-level managers. Frankly they're a bunch of middle class wusses and they need an urgent makeover.

The Mt Albert byelection to replace Clark is a grand opportunity for Goff and his party to get some air time. But shockingly they are about to mess things up.

It's well known in Mt Albert that long-time local Phil Twyford is Clark's preferred replacement and a future mover and shaker nationally.

Clark lobbied strongly to have him high on the party list last election and he's her go-to guy in Auckland.

The National and Act inner circle know Twyford will be impossible to defeat in a byelection and have been covertly organising to take Twyford out of contention.

They have had their right-wing bloggers and spinners up to mischief, putting it about to anyone who will listen that if Twyford is the candidate then it will be a disaster for Labour.

They claim he is a strong candidate and normally would win. But, unfortunately for Labour, Twyford is already a list MP. This means that if he wins the byelection Labour gets the next candidate on their party list into Parliament.

The next person is former West Coast MP Damien O'Connor who isn't great shakes but he's not a problem. The Nats' cunning trap is based on the premise that Michael Cullen has announced he, too, will resign shortly.

Presuming O'Connor returns to Parliament if Twyford wins, when Cullen retires it will be next list candidate who fills that slot. That person is Judith Tizard, the defeated Auckland Central MP. According to National strategists she is their silver bullet to wreck Labour.

They are convinced Tizard is a deeply unpopular figure. If Labour selects Twyford for the byelection, the Nats will spin to the Mt Albert voters that it will allow Tizard back into Parliament. A vote for Phil Twyford is a vote for Judith Tizard.

I was amused that some of the media and political commentators bought into this, but I couldn't believe it when some in the Labour Party took it seriously and are considering dumping Twyford and bringing in a non-MP to run for the seat.

Alternatively, they are considering asking Tizard to remove herself from the list. My right-wing mates are incredulous that Labour has fallen into their trap.

Clark hasn't even left yet and the Labour Party people are running around like chooks. They'd better get their act together quickly or they will lose Mt Albert.

At present there's a vacuum and the Nats are filling it. Phil Goff and new president Andrew Little should meet Clark urgently and sort out a strategy.

It's not hard. Just announce that the party will look for the best candidate who will make a great long-term MP for Mt Albert. To keep the seat Labour will need Clark to persuade her personal supporters to transfer their affection to the new candidate.

If someone is actually better than Twyford and is selected, Clark needs to endorse him or her.

And as far as the Nats' strategy on Tizard goes, ignore it. The truth is, electors never care about the list.

It's time for the new leadership of the Labour Party to step up and take charge. Aunty Helen can still help but she has bigger things to do now.