Christmas is supposed to be the season of goodwill, a time when you say nice things about even your worst enemy. But not, it seems, when you're two good Christian gentlemen jostling for the second biggest political prize in the land - the Auckland Super City mayoralty.

Instead of delivering a message of hope and good cheer, Manukau Mayor Len Brown has delivered his right-wing rival, John Banks, a lousy package: a poll that shows himself ahead of the Auckland City Mayor by 11 points.

Mr Banks has tried to brush this setback aside, calling it a "shonky" survey by Labour Party pollsters and arguing that "no one really believes that a Labour candidate for the Auckland mayoralty can be that far ahead, with the National Party in Auckland 30 points ahead of Labour in every poll across Greater Auckland."

But if that is so, why has he refused to reveal the results of his own polling "of 1500 people over two to three nights". A survey conducted by the presumably non-shonky National Party pollster David Farrar.

UMR's poll of 482 Aucklanders has Mr Brown on 42 per cent and Mr Banks on 31. This is a major change since the last published UMR poll in July which had the two contenders equal pegging, Mr Brown on 35 per cent, Mr Banks on 34. Mr Brown had not then officially declared his candidacy and had a point when he argued "my name recognition is nothing like John Banks' is".

Overall it's been a great year for the Manukau contender. In a UMR poll of Aucklanders in April, only 6 per cent selected him as preferred mayor out of a list of potential super mayors. Mr Banks, the only declared candidate, then led on 17 per cent, with Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey on 10 per cent and businessman/philanthropist Sir Stephen Tindall on 9 per cent.

The decisions, by Mr Brown and Mr Banks, to declare early - the contest is nearly 10 months away on October 9 next year - were calculated gambles to scare off rivals on their respective sides of the political spectrum. Both have been successful, so far.

Unfortunately for Mr Banks, reducing the contest to a two-horse race has left him with no chance to play Machiavelli.

Not like back in August 2001 when he took on his first crack at the Auckland City mayoralty by challenging incumbent mayor Christine Fletcher, his former National Party ministerial colleague.

Alliance president Matt McCarten then entered the race to give people a choice over "two millionaires who don't know what to do in their day time".

Also itching to have a go was left-wing deputy mayor Bruce Hucker. But his City Vision colleagues wouldn't support him for fear he'd split the Fletcher vote and let her more scary right-wing rival slip through.

Mr Banks saw the positive aspects of such a scenario and tried to lure Dr Hucker into the fray by slipping him his private polling figures. The poll showed there was only 10 points between the three of them, with Mrs Fletcher in front, Mr Banks next and Dr Hucker close behind. Mr Banks' gamble was that with Dr Hucker in the race, some of the Fletcher vote would drift to Dr Hucker, enabling Mr Banks to slip ahead to victory.

Dr Hucker refused to play ball and didn't stand. As it turned out, Mrs Fletcher dithered so long, even about whether to stand or not, that many liberal supporters gave up on her and stayed at home. The turnout was a miserable 18.7 per cent and Mr Banks picked up nearly 44 per cent of it.

This time is very different. Mr Banks' only declared rival is matching his campaigning tactics, door-knock for door-knock, and according to the UMR poll, beating him at his own game. His only consolation is that no rivals have emerged to further dilute his support base. But you only have to mutter "Dame Jenny Shipley" to get his entourage twitching uncontrollably.

This column was going to look back on the past 12 months, but like the year, it has become sidetracked by the gestation pains of the Super City.

Next year promises more of the same. Let's just hope we don't all become so distracted by the birth process that Auckland slowly grinds to a halt in the process.