At first sight, with a majority of 10,351 last year, Mt Albert looks like one of the Labour Party's safest seats. The last election was, after all, the low watermark in electorate support for a government in exit mode.

Yet come the byelection on June 13, Labour could face real humiliation. It could lose the seat or, at least, have that more than 10,000-vote lead slashed to a few hundred or less.

As MP for Mt Albert, Helen Clark had huge respect and enormous personal support, meaning 20,157 people gave her their constituency vote, almost 60 per cent of the total. National's Ravi Musuku still picked up a creditable 9806 or just under 29 per cent.
Whatever huge 10,000-plus majority Clark had in the electorate seat, check out the party vote. That was much closer, showing National trailed Labour by just 2426 party votes.

What it means is even National-leaning voters respected Clark enough to vote for her, and still give National their party votes. With Clark gone they are more likely to vote for the National candidate.

Enter the Greens. Last year plenty of Green Party supporters - 1827 of them - still voted for Clark.

If Green Party votes go to the Green candidate as well, on paper, Labour has a potential majority of only 599. This is a straightforward, old-fashioned, first-past-the-post free-for-all.

Using these figures it could be really tight, which is why Phil Goff and Labour strategists will be cursing Russel Norman, who has decided to contest the byelection.

He has a much higher profile than the Greens' last candidate, John Carapiet, so must inevitably attract more support, dangerously splitting the centre-left vote.

It's worth also noting that National is likely to put up a relatively high-profile candidate in Melissa Lee.

Mt Albert is a culturally diverse electorate and her ethnicity should not harm her. She is also a trained media professional, which should be of great advantage because byelections are almost presidential contests, with the candidates getting much more media exposure than they would normally get in a general election.

Some pundits are picking David Shearer, UN aid worker and close friend of Goff, as the likely Labour candidate.

However, the selection process slightly favours the local branches and that could mean someone like Glenda Fryer, an Auckland City councillor who has been active locally for many years, could get the nod.

Labour will suffer other disadvantages. Financially, the party must be running on empty since the expense of the last election. National has the advantage of being in government and can therefore summon up money from business contributors who want to curry favour.

On the day, Labour's voters may prove to be still bruised and disillusioned by the big loss barely eight months earlier and a low turnout could be a disaster. Some who voted Labour might now feel that National has not turned out to be as bad as they expected and either withhold their vote or actively support the Government candidate.

Others may decide Labour has not performed well since the election and, instead, vote for the feistier Norman.

The only thing working in Labour's favour is that by June the recession may have bitten harder, unemployment may have risen and Labour's support might turn out because of fear.

National's pull back from the Waterview tunnel project will not help it. You are unlikely to vote for a candidate whose party could be quite keen to put a bulldozer through your house or further frustrate your efforts to get to work on time.

Still, National is in a win-win situation. All it has to do is erode Labour's majority sufficiently to claim a moral victory. If it took the seat it could destabilise Goff's leadership and lead to long and costly in-fighting within Labour over who should lead the party and in what direction.

If the Greens can sufficiently split the vote they will make a valuable point to Labour. Having been virtually ignored by Labour over the past nine years the Greens were in no mood to agree to not stand a candidate. By running the high-powered Norman it makes the point that Labour needs to be far closer to its centre-left ally and should never again cavalierly cut them loose. Roll on June 13.