Mt Albert by-election: Labour faces challenge from the left

Jacinda Ardern and Joe Carolan (Getty/Dan Satherley)
Jacinda Ardern and Joe Carolan (Getty/Dan Satherley)

Parties on the right might not be standing a candidate in February's Mt Albert by-election, but that doesn't mean Labour will get a free run at the seat.

National announced on Monday it would not contest Mt Albert, calling it a "safe Labour seat".

ACT and United Future on Tuesday told Newshub they won't be standing candidates either - so it's possible Labour's strongest challenge could come from the left.

Joe Carolan, Mana's Mt Albert candidate at the 2014 general election, has thrown his hat in the ring again, this time running as an out-and-proud socialist.

In 2014 he only got 0.8 percent of the vote, but thinks the time is right for his kind of thinking in the post-Bernie Sanders world.

"I thought this would be a good way of saying, could we have a radical alternative in politics in NZ?" he says.

With the Greens and the Conservatives still undecided whether they'll try and nick the seat off Labour, Mr Carolan's disappointed National, United Future and ACT aren't even going to try.

"I think parties should stand in elections, you know? I think we have too limited a democracy as it is. I think we should have more democracy," he told Newshub.

United Future leader Peter Dunne sees it differently. He wants to hand the electorate to Labour's Jacinda Ardern on a plate, and save the taxpayer the expense of a by-election only months before the country goes to the polls.

"The seat is an unassailably safe one for Labour so there is little point in expending resources when the outcome is already known," said Mr Dunne.

The Electoral Commission confirmed to Newshub if Ms Ardern was the only candidate, she would indeed win by default. It could not say how much money would be saved.

It's probably moot anyway, because Mr Carolan says he won't be stepping aside even if the Greens and Labour asked him to.

"Democracy is about people having choice, and not stitch-ups in Parliament - parties agreeing not to run with each other, or people actually denying people a choice," said Mr Carolan.

"This kind of stitch-up is showing that the games in Parliament are more important to these hollowed-out parties."

New Zealand First didn't contest the seat in 2014, and hasn't indicated whether it will in February.

By-election losses 'bad for morale'

Victoria University politics professor Jack Vowles says Prime Minister Bill English doesn't want to lead a demoralised party heading into the 2017 general election.

Labour's win in Mt Roskill was more comprehensive than expected, and Mt Albert has never, ever voted for a candidate from another party.

"I think that National was assuming they would do better than they turned out doing. Perhaps they think that a similar result in Mt Albert might be bad for morale and it's better to skip it," said Prof Vowles.

"They obviously see it as a waste of resources. They're unlikely to get anything positive out of it. If anything, they will get some slight negative impacts - so why do it?

The Mt Albert by-election will be held on February 25.