After years of waiting in line, Phil Goff has became the leader of the Labour Party in the wake of Saturday’s crushing election defeat.

With Helen Clark becoming a consummate leader Goff, 55, knew it would take an electoral disaster for him to lead the party, and now that has happened.

Not that the ambitious Aucklander hadn’t tried to topple Clark earlier. In 1996, Goff was one of a delegation that went to her office to demand she step down.

Clark stared that bid down, saw it off and moulded herself into one of the great Labour leaders. Her success meant Goff had to remain the bridesmaid.

Long seen as heir apparent, the Opposition often generated rumours he was trying to mount a coup, so much so that “barbecue at Phil’s place” became political code for insurrection.

Goff was the obvious new leader, with his wide experience across many portfolios, his personal touch, and his debating ability.

Party insiders describe Goff as a male version of Clark: dedicated, with a ferocious commitment to his work, very political and very ambitious.

He worked tremendously long hours, and was media savvy with it.

Once, on a trip to Asia, he rang NZPA at 3am and left an interview with himself on the answer phone.

He said: “I know it’s early and there won’t be anyone there, but here’s what I did today” and left what was essentially himself interviewing himself on the message system.

His political roots were planted with the Auckland University student Labour Party activists, just as Clark’s were.

He is seen as more human than Clark, he has a close family, and has a reputation of working happily with his parliamentary staff.

He has a sense of humour, loves a bit of a laugh, and likes rugby for rugby’s sake.

For the past nine years he has been Mr Fixit for Labour. When Goff was moved into a portfolio, successful Opposition attacks in that area dried up.

Once seen as part of the right-wing plot led by Mike Moore to oust Clark, he accepted her as leader as she grew in stature, and became a loyal minister.

He even accepted being moved out as Foreign Minister to make room for New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, though privately was known to be very dark about it.

Clark was known to be wary of his skills, and the pair had head-to-heads over who should make high-profile announcements, with each wanting to be in the limelight.

Goff entered Parliament in 1981, as MP for Mt Roskill. He was the youngest minister in David Lange’s cabinet in 1984, and stayed an MP until voted out in 1990.

He lectured political studies for three years, then won Mt Roskill back in 1993. He had accepted a scholarship to study for six months at Oxford University, but decided to stand for Parliament instead.

After election victory in 1999 he was given the justice and foreign affairs and trade portfolios, and also took on Pacific Island Affairs.

Later he took on defence, trade, disarmament and arms control, and associate minister of trade negotiations.

He grew up in Auckland in a cash-strapped household, and when he finished high school in 1969, his father wanted him to get a job.

Instead, at 16, he left home, joined the Labour Party, and worked as a freezing worker and a cleaner to study at Auckland University.

In 1973, he was senior scholar in political studies, and won the Butterworth Prize for law.

While completing his MA, he lectured in political studies.

His thesis was on Labour and the unions and the politics of industrial relations.

He is married to Mary Goff and has three children — Kristopher (born 1982), Sara (1984) and Kieran (1986). He lives in Clevedon, on the southern outskirts of Auckland.

His nephew Lieutenant Matthew Ferrara was one of six United States soldiers killed in an ambush in Afghanistan on November 10 last year.