Some MPs are casting about for an Option C in Labour's leadership contest because of concerns about David Cunliffe and Grant Robertson - but there is little consensus on who that could be.

Mr Cunliffe formally resigned as leader yesterday, triggering a leadership contest which is expected to be held in November.

So far only Mr Cunliffe and Mr Robertson have put their hands up for the job - but a number of MPs have reservations about both and are talking about whether a third person should contest it.

Former leader David Shearer returned from New York yesterday and is expected to make a decision soon about whether he will seek the leadership.

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But many in caucus are concerned about his ability to perform on camera.

Other names mentioned included Andrew Little and David Parker.

Mr Little will not know until Saturday whether his place as an MP is secure and has not commented on his intentions.

Mr Parker, who is acting leader until the leadership contest, has said he would not contest the role himself but has left some wiggle room to change his mind if there was support for him. "We've all got our supporters."

Others including Iain Lees-Galloway and Kelvin Davis have also refused to give a preference and appear to be waiting to see if a third person appeared - saying they did not yet know what the final line-up would be. Others not firmly in the Cunliffe or Robertson camp include Mr Shearer, Mr Little and Stuart Nash, who has just returned to Parliament.

One MP said a third entrant could get some support. "As things stand, one candidate is completely unacceptable and the other is regarded as a risk."

Although Mr Robertson was widely respected some were concerned his sexuality would be a factor for some voters. One MP said there was a risk he would put off more morally conservative Pacific Island and Maori voters, denting the only support base that held up for Labour in 2011. If there was any sign that would happen, at least two MPs said that could mean Mr Cunliffe got the edge over Mr Robertson for their votes despite the election result.

Both Mr Robertson and Mr Cunliffe have started trying to secure the support they will require from caucus, members and the unions through a combination of promises and subtle sledging. Mr Robertson has pledged to reconnect with New Zealanders, apparently reflecting concerns of MPs like Mr Shearer and Clayton Cosgrove that Labour was obsessed with sectional interests.

Mr Cunliffe responded by making a clear pitch for party members by saying he rejected the suggestion.

"I reject that - if you count Maori, Pasifika and our affiliates as sectional interests we'd be in dire straits without them. Those are the bright spots in an otherwise bleak election campaign."