In an ongoing opinion series, Simon Wilson explains why the Northcote by-election matters.
No government has won a seat off the opposition in a by-election since 1930. But that's a distinct possibility for Northcote on June 9, where former health minister Jonathan Coleman has resigned.
If it happens, Labour will gain a seat in Parliament and National will lose one. It won't change the government's working majority much (it'll be 64 seats to 56), as they will still have to rely on both NZ First and the Greens to pass legislation.
And yet there's an awful lot at stake. This by-election is the first public test of the National Party's new leader, Simon Bridges. It's also the public's first chance to have a say on the way Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her government are running the country. It could wreck the aspirations of either party leader.
Northcote is a suburban seat, wealthier than average but not extremely so. It's the kind of seat that should be won by whichever party forms the government, and indeed that has been the case in six of the last eight elections. The way Northcote votes is a good indicator for the way the rest of the country feels.
Last year, Coleman won by 6200 votes, but a lot of that was his personal support. If the by-election produces a big win to National it will suggest Ardern's government is in trouble. A win to Labour, or even a narrow loss, will mean Simon Bridges is in trouble. At this stage it's wide open.
Paula Bennett, deputy leader and MP for the neighbouring Upper Harbour electorate, has been appointed to run the National campaign. Labour won't have such a high-profile campaign leader, but they will have people in charge with election-winning experience in Auckland.
The parties choose their candidate this Sunday. Labour has a shortlist of three, including both their candidates from the last two general elections. National's board of directors has whittled a list of 13 hopefuls down to five. On both sides there are nominees with strong local track records but none with a high profile in the country or even the rest of the city. There are no celebrities in the mix.
But there will very probably be youth: the frontrunners on both sides are in their 30s.
The Labour race is too close to call. Richard Hills, age 31, candidate in 2014 and now an Auckland councillor, is up against Shanan Halbert, age 35, who is head of relationships at Te Wananga o Aotearoa and was the candidate in 2017.
Hills is widely admired in and around council. Mayor Phil Goff has recently promoted him to deputy chair of the planning committee.
There was also this: "If you wanted someone who really puts in the hard yards for the community you have surely got to go with @richardhills777 All you #Labour delegates take note, he's too good to be just a city councillor."
That was posted on Twitter by an Independent Maori Statutory Board council rep, the former National Party and NZ First MP, Tau Henare.
Henare later clarified that he would not actually vote for Hills, being a responsible member of the National Party.
In the 2014 general election, when Hills stood against Jonathan Coleman, he won 2200 more votes than Labour in the party vote. In 2016 he won the council seat that had been held by National Party member and former North Shore mayor George Wood. In that election he also topped the local board poll. All those results speak to his personal popularity.
When Shanan Halbert stood against Coleman three years later he won nearly 3000 votes more than Hills had, but that was in the context of a big swing everywhere to Labour and its candidates. Halbert won about the same number of votes as Labour in the party vote.
Hills has the political experience and he's already won elections in the area, albeit at local body level. But Halbert did well in 2017, so is there any reason to drop him now? Hills is a serious, hard-working kind of guy; Halbert has been described as more of a risk-taker. Both of them live in the electorate.
The third Labour hopeful is Paul McGreal, who has no political profile.
On the National side a couple of outsiders have made the cut, including Steve Watts, chief finance officer at the Waitemata district health board. He'd know a few things.
Surprisingly, Vernon Tava, ex-Green Party candidate in the seat and now a National Party member, did not make the cut. Tava has the kind of politics party leader Simon Bridges has said he wants to see more of: he's a blue-green. But that didn't translate into Bridges leaning on the board to keep Tava's name on the list.
The ranking party stalwart is Lisa Whyte, an accountant who clearly loves local body politics. She was a member of the old North Shore City Council, is the chair of one local board and has also been on another, and has stood unsuccessfully to become an Auckland City councillor. Danielle Grant, deputy chair of the Kaipatiki local board, which corresponds quite closely to the Northcote electorate, is also in the running.
The frontrunner, though, is probably Dan Bidois, former student politician, former Fulbright scholar, ex-OECD economist with a masters in public policy from Harvard and now a Foodstuff manager. Bidois lives in Botany, has links to influential National MPs Judith Collins and Jami-Lee Ross, and tried for the Pakuranga electorate in 2017. Now he's eyeing up the Shore.
Bidois is in his late 30s and has the CV of a classic high-flyer. Whyte and Grant are older, local, and have a record of local service. That gives the party a pretty clear choice. Whyte was ranked 70 on the party list last year; Bidois was 72.
And the other parties? None of them, inside or outside Parliament, have yet declared their intentions.