Pity the Labour Party's moderating committee, for which the process of working out the list is akin to Archimedes' battle to peg down pi.

This year was more complex than usual, courtesy of the new requirement for at least 45 per cent of its caucus to be female.

Add the long-standing requirements to ensure Maori and other ethnic groups are represented, mixed with the egos of the current MPs, and Labour's low polling which makes the top list spots the political equivalent of prime real estate in Auckland. That committee was wrestling with a very slippery pig.

The 45 per cent target meant this year's list was as much about managing political problems as mathematical ones. The leadership already had to dump an associated measure that would have let some electorates ban men from standing. That was controversial enough.

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The party could not afford for that to bubble over again, so it had to persuade men to go on the list, despite not particularly wanting them to actually get into Parliament on it. Any boycotting of the process would only have reignited the whole quota palaver so close to an election.

It dealt with this by promising the top 20 ranking caucus members they would be ranked in roughly the same order as in caucus - eliminating the risk some MPs would pull out rather than face the humiliation of a dumping. However, the necessity of putting MPs' job security above the party rules made reaching the 45 per cent target more difficult.

It may have 53 per cent women on its list, but if Labour wins the 27 electorates it believes it can take, that will not translate into 45 per cent of women in caucus unless it gets 35 per cent in the election. And despite its efforts, there are still 21 candidates who opted off the list, 16 of them male.

In the seven Maori seats, four candidates are not on the list and all are male. Those MPs have given different reasons. Some, such as Kris Faafoi and Clare Curran, say if they cannot win the electorate they do not want to be in Parliament at all. For others facing marginal battles, it is a strategic move so their opponents cannot argue they will return on the list anyway. Trevor Mallard has said his decision was to improve colleague Kelvin Davis' position by freeing one of the men's slots higher up, reducing the risk Mr Davis would have more women placed above him.

Perversely, the attempt to minimise the fallout of the 45 per cent target also means Labour could return to Parliament an even less diverse party than before. The only Asian with a chance of making it back, Raymond Huo, will need Labour to get about 30 per cent while the top ranked candidate of Indian descent, Priyanca Radhakrishnan, will need 31 per cent.

Even if Labour falls short, all it has to do is point at National. John Key dismissed the idea of a female target, expressing amazement that anyone at all was lining up for Labour's list. But National's caucus is 75 per cent male and of the 64 candidates selected to stand in electorates, only 30 per cent are women.

Ironically, rather than appear to be punishing males to get to quota, Labour instead punished a female - the only MP who has reason to be aggrieved by their ranking is Carol Beaumont. She was shunted down the list to make way for fresh faces - new women Mrs Radhakrishnan and Dr Rachel Jones.

Both were chosen partly because Mrs Radhakrishnan met ethnicity requirements while Dr Jones provides regional representation.