Andrew Little would be mad not to run in Mt Albert
OPINION: Let's be honest: few outside his notoriously bolshy inner circle could contend with a straight face that Andrew Little is a naturally gifted politician.
The Labour leader is a grafter, whose talents fail to match his ambitions by some considerable margin.
The "Angry Andy" thing has stuck, as tends to happen when alliterative nicknames align so neatly with public perception.
Little approaches media interviews as hand to hand combat; his tone veering between defensive and pugilistic.
It's as if he considers questions from journalists impertinent by their very nature.
What's more, Little often seems woefully underprepared for what should be considered straightforward lines of inquiry.
It's hard to tell who dreads the Labour leader's TV appearances the most: Little himself, the interviewer, or the viewing public, all of whom cringe to varying degrees through the awkward encounters.
And yet Little may enjoy the one thing more important in politics than talent: good timing.
John Key's unexpected resignation gives Andrew Little the rarest of opportunities, namely the chance to reintroduce himself to the New Zealand public. He won't get another one.
Until Key's resignation, polls made abundantly clear that Kiwis were not willing to take Little seriously as an alternative prime minister.
As Duncan Garner memorably explained in a recent column, the voting public's phone wasn't merely off the hook when it came to Labour, it has been ripped clean from the socket.
But events have conspired to give Little not one, but two, opportunities to correct this.
First and most obviously, the ascension of Bill English to Prime Minister will have Kiwis over the barbecue season weighing a new set of options as we enter an election year.
This is a prime chance for Labour to present Little in a new light. They should be running as many flattering bio spots during intervals in the cricket as they can afford.
David Shearer's impending departure for South Sudan offers Little and Labour yet another timely opportunity to reset the board.
Andrew Little should be Labour's candidate in the by-election to replace Shearer.
The Greens should stand aside to help the Labour romp home, just as Michael Wood did in Mt Roskill.
The notoriously risk averse Little should hold no fear for Mt Albert. The other electorate for which he is touted, the Wellington-based seat of Rongotai, is a harder lift.
For one thing, he will face a general election turnout in Rongotai, whereas the Mt Albert by-election, like the neighbouring Mt Roskill, will likely see a drastic drop off in National Party voters.
This will help them to the kind of thumping victory he is unlikely to achieve in a general election context, especially when you consider the demands on him to run to spearhead Labour's nationwide effort.
All in all, a storming victory in Mt Albert will give Little the elusive aura of a winner, something even his closest friends would have to concede he does not currently possess.
Would National attempt to tag the Wellington-previously-New Plymouth-based Little a desperate carpet-bagger? Of course.
But the voters won't care, any more than they did in Northland when Winston Peters entered the fray. They'll be chuffed that a major party leader has seen fit to put his hand up to represent them in Parliament.
Imagine the precious air time a Little candidacy in Mt Albert will give the Labour leader: several weeks to showcase Little as a retail campaigner; to give voters a sustained look at the alternative PM just as they are formulating their perceptions of English in the top job.
Why on earth would you squander such serendipity by nominating some generic Labour candidate whose victory in Mt. Albert will be forgotten long before the real campaign starts?
It's more than just that Little should run in Mt Albert. It's that he would be mad not to.
* Phil Quin, a strategic communications consultant and freelance writer, was a Labour staffer in the 1990s.