Two 35-year-old Maori men will contest the Northcote byelection for the major parties on June 9. National has chosen company manager and economist Dan Bidois and Labour has opted for local runanga manager Shanan Halbert.

The parties have not chosen them to appeal to a particular ethnic demographic: Northcote is two-thirds Pakeha and one quarter Asian, largely Chinese and Korean. Maori numbers are well below the national average. It's just the world we live in now.

Besides, they did get the age right: the median age in Northcote is exactly 35, 10 years younger than the country as a whole.

Both parties met on Sunday afternoon and went through their very different versions of candidate-selection democracy. Labour kicked off first, at midday in the Kaipatiki Community Hall, in the Northcote Centre shopping hub. The centre was once a smart modernist shopping mecca but it's very run down now. The council will change that soon: a big makeover is planned as part of citywide efforts to revitalise Auckland's local communities. Very Labour.


In the hall itself, with a tapa cloth completely covering the end wall and an upright piano pushed to the side of the stage, about 80 people gathered. They were mainly older, Pakeha although with quite a few Maori and Pasifika, and several were party members from outside the electorate.

Labour elects its candidates through a very mediated democratic process. General secretary Andrew Kirton explained it to the meeting. The party itself had already chosen three delegates; the local electorate committee two more. Northcote party members at the meeting would elect a third and there would also be a floor vote. Nominees would speak and take questions, after which the delegates would retire to make their decision. The media was not allowed to witness any of it.

Labour have announced Shanan Halbert as their candidate in the fight for the seat vacated by Jonathan Coleman. Video/Doug Sherring

Labour had only three nominees for the job, but the whole process took them five hours.

National met down the road in the clubhouse of the giant Netball North Harbour Centre. A go-get-'em kind of place, very National. They had about 140 people in the room, 60 of whom were official voting delegates.

National has a small branch organisation in Northcote, so many of those 60 had been brought in from outside – particularly from deputy leader Paula Bennett's neighbouring Upper Harbour electorate.

The candidates each spoke for 10 minutes and then took two questions. Then the delegates voted, in a secret ballot. The media was allowed to witness all the speeches, but not report them.

The whole thing took less than two hours, because National got a result on the first ballot.

You can't doubt the efficiency, although it did make a mockery of the officials' repeated claims that all the candidates were very strong. Bidois scored more votes in that ballot than all four of the others put together.


He was also the only outsider. National's not too fussed about that. They like to elect people they think have cabinet potential, and Bidois, a former Fulbright Scholar with a management degree from Harvard, looks the part.

Besides, of the three previous National Party MPs in Northcote – Sir Jim McLay, Ian Revell and Jonathan Coleman – none lived in the electorate when he first won the nomination. They all moved in, as Bidois has also vowed to do.

National have selected Dan Bidois as their candidate for the Northcote byelection

McLay was at the meeting, his distinguished white locks falling well over his collar. Several current MPs were also there, including Maggie Barry from the North Shore electorate, Paul Goldsmith from Epsom, Erica Stanford from East Coast Bays and Jami-Lee Ross from Botany. Bennett had a family engagement she couldn't miss. The now-former MP Jonathan Coleman and former party presidents Sue Wood and Michelle Boag also turned out. Party leader Simon Bridges arrived in time to congratulate the winner. It was showtime, as far as National was concerned.

Labour was not so strongly represented: the only MPs in attendance were Marja Lubeck, who's based in Albany, along with Mt Roskill MP Michael Wood and list MP Willie Jackson. In fact, Labour is not strong north of the bridge: the only seat it holds is Te Tai Tokerau and Lubeck is its only list MP from the whole city north of the bridge.

Labour has a fight on its hands to win this byelection, but they fancy their chances. Coleman's majority in 2017 was 6200, which Shanan Halbert, the Labour candidate in that election too, had managed to reduce from a 9700 gap in 2014.

When I asked him why he thought he had been reselected, he said the 2017 result showed he could make a difference. But Halbert's result last year mirrored a nationwide swing to Labour. He didn't do better than the overall swing, and he'll need to pull out something more to win this time.

I asked him about both candidates being Maori and asked him if he thought there was a difference between them.

"Te reo," he said. He added that he was conversationally okay. Who does he whakapapa to? Rongowhaakata in Bay of Plenty and Ngati Whitikaupeka around Taihape.

National also fancies its chances. No opposition party has lost a byelection to the government since 1930, and Bidois is a quality candidate.

I told Bridges that Bidois reminds me of him. "I think he might be better than me," said Bridges.

And the Bidois whakapapa? "Ngati Maniapoto," he said, in the Waikato.

"Same as me," said Bridges.

They're going to fight it on national issues and local issues, and the local issue that symbolises everything about this electorate is Onewa Rd, the main feeder road to the harbour bridge. If you're in a car trying to use that road at peak time, you're not a happy person.

But if you're in a bus or a car using the T3 lane, you're moving.

After his victory, Bidois put Onewa Rd at the top of his list.

"It's not working," he said.

But wasn't he referring to the 20 per cent or so of commuters stuck in their cars, not the 80 per cent of commuters who take the bus? What else did he think should happen?

"Maybe we need to look at the T3 lane," he said. "We need alternatives and innovative solutions."

He didn't elaborate, but it's pretty clear that transport debate will dominate this campaign.