It's ironic that in the same week we commemorate the courage of young men who died in battle, our new Labour Party leaders hoisted up the white flag in Helen Clark's vacant seat.

It's been an open secret for some time that Phil Twyford was being groomed to take over the Mt Albert seat when Clark moved on. He lives in the electorate and shares his electorate office with the former PM. Twyford is seen as one of the outstanding future leaders of the Labour Party with a distinguished resume.

Under normal circumstances, Twyford would be the standard bearer for the upcoming byelection and would have had a long tenure as the local MP.

But in a stunning display of political cowardice, the Labour Party national hierarchy this week knee-capped Twyford. The political assassination of one of their best and brightest is one of the most disloyal and treacherous political acts I've seen.

What is disheartening is that Labour's action wasn't from a place of principled strategy but the result of hysteria generated by their political opponents.

I salute the right-wing bloggers, who mischievously instigated a destabilising campaign against Labour by writing that National could win Mt Albert if Twyford was the Labour Party nominee. Twyford is a current list MP. Their genius was in pointing out that if Twyford won - as was widely assumed - then Judith Tizard, as the next-highest place list candidate, would be entitled to return to Parliament to replace Twyford's vacant list spot.

The bloggers claimed that Twyford's campaign would be overshadowed by the furore of the supposedly unpopular Tizard slipping back into Parliament.

Privately, none of the bloggers believed that their strategy would amount to much, but were incredulous when certain media players started taking it seriously.

What gobsmacked the bloggers particularly - and fatally for Twyford - was that the Labour Party panicked. There were even some attempts to force Tizard to step down off the list, which of course she wouldn't.

New Labour leader Phil Goff's belated weak public defence of Tizard exposed the extent of the bloggers' success with their campaign. Some in the media joined in, telling the Labour Party they would make Tizard a major part of their press coverage.

According to sources on both sides, the Labour Party leadership went into meltdown, telling Twyford that they couldn't take the risk and insisted he fall on his sword and withdraw his nomination.

Both main parties have since polled Mt Albert, revealing that National has now closed in on Labour. Over the past week, Labour Party leaders have approached high-flyers Jim Mather (CEO of Maori TV) and David Shearer (UN diplomat) to stand. Neither has any connection with Mt Albert.

Now that Twyford has dutifully withdrawn his name, Goff may be fortunate that his choice - Shearer - may still win the byelection. But this incident exposes a disturbing expediency in the Labour leadership.

The right-wing bloggers framed the election before it had started. No one should have any doubt now about the considerable influence bloggers have on our political processes.

Shearer and several other nominees - local city councillor Glenda Fryer and lawyers Helen White and Simon Mitchell - would make fine MPs. But what should leave a bad taste in the mouths of voters is that they were cheated of being given a full choice. Shearer will inevitably get the head office block vote to become the official candidate, no matter what the locals think.

The word from the Beehive is that Twyford has been offered Auckland Central as a consolation prize at the next election. That shows the level of cynicism in the party. Once, local members were able to select their own candidates, not have them imposed by national hierarchies.

In New York, this sort of backroom wheeling and dealing is called "Tammany Hall" politics. It's not democratic, it's not open, and it speaks volumes about a party that treats this behaviour as acceptable.

Of course, there will be local outrage at these manoeuvrings and the party now runs a real risk of loyal Labourites supporting another candidate. Accordingly, the Green Party has seen its opening and co-leader Russel Norman has announced his intention to contest the seat.

Labour has successively inoculated itself against the Tizard problem, but it may find the political consequence of its so-called solution is worse than the original problem.

I suspect that the Green Party will do well. If the National Party puts up a strong, liberal candidate, there is a possibility that it will pull off the impossible and win the seat. If Labour loses the seat or squeaks back with a small margin, Goff will have to take the can. Not an auspicious start and possibly fatal for his leadership.

In the same week that we celebrate Kiwi mateship under gunfire, our Labour leaders demonstrated how they acted under political fire. They panicked, chopped Twyford and Tizard off at the knees and ran for cover.

Richard Prebble once said to me that no politician can make it without courage. In this respect, Goff - in his first test as leader - has failed. If I was a Labour MP I wouldn't volunteer to share a foxhole with Goff when the shooting starts.