Labour MPs who hold Maori seats have made the surprise decision to stake their re-election solely on winning their electorates.

The six MPs have opted not to run on the Labour's party list, as part of a strategy to defeat the Maori Party and Mana at the general election.

Labour leader Andrew Little described it as a "statement of intent" and a "direct challenge" to the Maori Party.

Labour's Maori caucus said it would allow more Maori candidates to get into Parliament.


By removing themselves from the list, the Labour MPs who hold Maori seats could free up spaces for other Maori candidates outside Parliament, like Willie Jackson, Willow-Jean Prime, or Tamati Coffey.

However, there is no guarantee that Maori candidates will get high list placings. That decision lies with the party.

"I don't have the right to instruct the party to do anything," Little said. He has made it clear, however, that he wants Jackson to get a high list placing.

Hauraki-Waikato MP Nanaia Mahuta said the strategy was also designed to stop voters from casting "two-for-one" votes, in which they gave their party vote to Labour - knowing that the party's Maori MPs will get elected on the list - while voting for the Maori Party or Mana candidate.

"The message is very simple for Maori voters," Mahuta said.

"We are eliminating the two-for-one message because in order to get us into Government you need to be able to vote for our party as well.

"It's simply not true if those parties think that they're going to get a two-for-one exercise out in the Maori electorates. It's not true."

Maori Party and Mana MPs have previously promoted the two-for-one approach, saying voters will get two Maori MPs if they split their vote.


Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell said they had been "whipped" by Little into going off the party list.

That was denied by Labour's Maori MPs, who said it was their decision to run in their electorates only.

Flavell also defended his party's record in Parliament, saying it had made significant gains in welfare, social services, and housing through its partnership with National.

"What has Labour done? Nothing. There's the difference - the ability to work with a Government, whoever that might be, to secure gains."

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox said the Labour MPs' decision to go off the list was "astounding".

"If they don't want the party list, that's fine - we'll take it."

Prime Minister Bill English described it as "negative political move" because it was designed to eliminate the Maori Party from Parliament.

Labour holds six of the seven Maori seats, but it is facing a strong challenge this year by a reunited Maori Party and Mana Movement. The two parties are campaigning together, and have agreed to step aside in some seats to give the other party a clear run.

That includes allowing Mana leader Hone Harawira to run in Te Tai Tokerau without competition from a Maori Party candidate.

Davis remained confident of a victory, saying voters in the electorate had not forgotten Harawira's alliance with Internet Party founder Kim Dotcom.

"He's got a lot to make up," Davis said.