Labour's failure to draw new blood can be seen in the list of retired politicians that queued up to replace Darren Hughes, reports Jonathan Milne. Today, Judith Tizard is set to announce she is taking up the seat.

It probably all goes back to union firebrand Matt McCarten. In the middle of a mayoral election campaign, he dubbed former Auckland Central MP Judith Tizard the Minister Responsible for Assisting the Prime Minister with her Handbag.

The label stuck. Lazy. Ineffectual. Would attend the opening of an envelope. Effete heir to a political dynasty, elevated into Parliament and a ministerial post purely because of her family's friendship with Helen Clark.

McCarten is unrepentant. "She may have been maligned a little too harshly," he says. "But her reputation for a lack of constituency work and follow-through was strong."

In WikiLeaks diplomatic cables made public by the Herald on Sunday last year, United States Consul General John Desrocher wrote: "Tizard is increasingly dismissed as Clark's (literal) bag carrier."

Right-wing bloggers like David Farrar and Cameron "Whaleoil" Slater popularised the slander - but Labour leader Phil Goff seemingly swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

Goff denies it but his electoral strategy of the past 2 years looks as if it has been dictated by one thing: the Tizard Factor. The party seems convinced that the public will not stomach Tizard's return.

Her spectre loomed over potential byelections in Mt Albert, Mana, Manurewa, Te Atatu and Botany.

Tizard came to personify the worst of the perceived cronyism of the past. Her mother, Cath, was a former Labour mayor of Auckland, then governor-general; her father, Bob, a senior and long-serving Labour cabinet minister.

Like former Cabinet minister Mark Burton (also ousted from his electorate in 2008) she was seen as one of Helen Clark's lefty-liberal confidantes.

And it suited Labour's new leadership to have her seen this way. It distracted attention from Goff and Annette King being even more firmly entrenched in "old Labour" than Tizard had been.

But when list MP Darren Hughes formally tenders his resignation from Parliament this week, Labour must replace him with another candidate from the party's 2008 list.

NEXT ON the Labour list is Tizard. She is followed by Mark Burton, Mahara Okeroa, Martin Gallagher, Dave Hereora, Louisa Wall and Lesley Soper. Retreads.

Each can boast of having done a stint or two in parliament - political careers remarkable only by how unremarkable they all were.

They all missed out on re-election in 2008 because they weren't popular enough with their constituents and because they were so weak, tired and uncharismatic that they were relegated to the lower reaches of the Labour list by their own party.

None changed the world. None changed New Zealand. Some didn't seem to change their suits very often. But this week, one must be named to return to Parliament to claim a salary for seven months and perhaps be allowed to make a speech or two.

Why would you put yourself through it, waiting in the wings for the day your party needs a seat-warmer?

Gallagher and Okeroa are refusing to return. "That's a past life," says Okeroa. "To sit in the seat for six or seven months would, to my mind, be an impediment to the Labour Party."

Former teachers' unionist Lesley Soper is seeking her third stint.

After narrowly missing election in 2002, she came in for five months after speaker Jonathan Hunt retired.

She was booted out in September 2005 but waited patiently until February 2007, when Georgina Beyer vacated her seat. That stint lasted 21 months, until she was ousted again at the 2008 election.

Now she is keen to take up Hughes' seat if given the chance, or to try to win the Invercargill electorate in November. "That's the risk you take in politics," she says.

"You make a choice, you put yourself out there. I stay in politics because I think it matters."

LABOUR'S OUTGOING party president, Andrew Little, made it clear before he stood down yesterday that he would like Tizard, Burton, Okeroa, Gallagher and Hereora to all stand aside to make way for Louisa Wall. She may be a retread, but at least she's a young, attractive retread who has represented New Zealand in netball and rugby.

And it was then that Tizard spoke up. She had remained quiet through one byelection after another, ignoring the public attacks, but it appeared her patience ran out this week.

She might just take up the seat, she said. She would rather like the chance of a dignified retirement and to make a valedictory speech.

And she fired a shot across Labour's bows: the party had not handled Chris Carter's "breakdown" well, she said, and Goff needed to step up if he wanted to be prime minister. Ow.

With that, it would be no surprise if Goff did everything possible to stymie her return.

But no, she says, as she sips her green tea in a Ponsonby Rd cafe. She has had an amicable chat with Phil and he has assured her she will be welcome back in Parliament.

And the corners of her mouth turn up ever so slightly. Mirthfully.

She has told Little that his public pronouncement was "not particularly helpful".

"It's caused a huge number of people to tell me that he's being a bully and I should stand up to him - which I don't think is a particularly good reason to go into Parliament."

She has promised Moira Coatsworth, who takes over the presidency of the Labour Party today, that she will announce her decision this morning. The answer, it seems will be "yes".

SINCE LOSING her Auckland Central electorate and seat in Parliament in 2008, Tizard has changed.

Her hair, short and stern while she was a minister, is now as long and curly as it was when she was first elected as Auckland Central's MP in 1996. She is slimmer, healthier. She goes to pilates classes and goes swimming with her mother (who celebrates her 80th birthday with a big party tomorrow).

Tizard's weight loss was no doubt aided by contracting non-specific viral hepatitis during the campaign. While National's candidate, 28-year-old marathon-runner Nikki Kaye, was powering door-to-door around the electorate, Tizard said she was barely able to campaign. "No excuses," she adds. "Nobody wants a sob story."

She was virtually bed-ridden for six weeks after the election and it has taken her the two years since to come close to a full recovery. Now the 55-year-old is clearly enjoying herself. The long hair, she says, is because she has time in the mornings to do it. Short hair was quicker and easier when she was a busy minister.

She travelled to the US last year, visiting family in Minnesota, friends in New Orleans, and her mate Helen Clark in New York at her new job as United Nations development programme administrator.

She is writing a family history with her dad, doing up her dilapidated house in Ponsonby and last week was collecting for the Child Cancer Foundation.

Tizard also likes being able to go to funerals. "One of the things I absolutely love about not being in Parliament is you can go to a funeral and actually stand around and have a cup of tea afterwards rather than flee for a plane."

And now she is preparing to attend Goff's funeral? "You would say that, and I wouldn't comment. I think Phil has a perfectly good chance to be prime minister. I think he's made mistakes but, God, who of us hasn't?

So she says she has reasons to return: unfinished business, the salary, supporting colleagues in their first opposition election, offering institutional knowledge and support. Acting as camp mother, essentially.

Those reasons ... and to "stick it up them".

Stick it up who? Phil Goff?

"I was actually thinking of David Farrar and Cameron Slater, et al. I wasn't thinking about my former colleagues," she says. "I don't think it's a particularly worthy thing to say, but I wouldn't be human if I didn't."

McCarten may not be Tizard's biggest fan (he claims some of her staff asked his union to represent them when they became frustrated at her lack of care for her constituents) but he does back her entitlement to return to Parliament.

Her party put her at No38 on the list, he says. Her party must suck it up if she chooses to accept that place in the House. "She was selected at that position," says McCarten. "She is entitled to take it up. Seven months' salary is nothing to turn up your nose at."

Parliamentary retreads
Judith Tizard

18 years (Oct 1990-Nov 2008)

Has spent the past 2 years recovering from hepatitis, growing her hair, doing voluntary work and writing a family history.

Mark Burton

15 years (Nov 1993-Nov 2008)

Ploughed $8045 into an unsuccessful tilt at the Taupo mayoralty last year. Has been working part-time for Restorative Justice Aotearoa.

Mahara Okeroa

9 years (Nov 1999-Nov 2008)

Now chairman of Wellington's Pipitea Marae, he has a Treaty of Waitangi consultancy which has been doing contract work for the Government and several iwi.

Martin Gallagher

3 years (Nov 1993-Sept 1996)

9 years (Nov 1999-Nov 2008)

Elected last year to Hamilton City Council, the school teacher told the local paper his time as an MP was "well in the past".

Dave Hereora

6 years (July 2002-Nov 2008)

A former Service and Food Workers' Union official, Hereora did not return calls this week.

Louisa Wall

Eight months (Mar 2008-Nov 2008)

The former rugby and netball international has been working with the Office of the Children's Commissioner, and has been selected as Labour's Manurewa candidate. At Christmas she married long-time partner Prue Tamatekapua in a civil ceremony at Pt Chevalier.

Lesley Soper

5 months (Apr 2005-Sep 2005)

21 months (Feb 2007-Nov 2008)

Completing a second degree through Massey, organising a family reunion and (again) writing a family history.