As far as pre-election unity goes, Labour’s delay in releasing its list rankings is far from an encouraging sign, writes Sam Sachdeva

Labour had initially planned to reveal where its candidates had been placed on Monday morning, setting the agenda ahead of Prime Minister Bill English’s 4pm weekly press conference.

However, that slipped out to the afternoon, before a Labour spokesman headed around the press gallery to reveal the announcement had instead been postponed until Tuesday morning.

The primary source of this delay? According to some reports, former broadcaster and polarising Labour candidate Willie Jackson.

Labour leader Andrew Little announced in February that Jackson would stand for the party, heading off the Māori Party’s advances with the promise of a high spot on Labour’s list.

Yet according to Stuff, Jackson’s rumoured ranking upset him so much that he flew down from Auckland to argue his case.

That has led to reports of a “crisis meeting” on Monday night to hash out the list and consider a change.

The list eventually showed Jackson unchanged at 21 and below other candidates in more winnable positions – including Priyanca Radhakrishnan on 11, Raymond Huo on 12, Jan Tinetti on 14 and Willow Jean Prime on 16.

It’s not the first time Jackson has caused disquiet within Labour’s ranks.

After his candidacy was announced, a number of party members – including Christchurch East MP Poto Williams – criticised comments he had made about the Roast Busters scandal while working at RadioLive in 2013.

That led to an apology from Jackson, but clearly all is not well between him and the party.

Gender balance rule a complication

A further wrinkle is the party’s requirement for gender balance: rule 8.47 of its constitution states the ranking committee must ensure that at least half of its MPs are women, taking into account likely electorate results.

Based on current polling, Labour could win 36 seats.

However, if it retains the 27 electorates it currently holds (15 of which have male candidates, and 12 female) that leaves space for only nine list MPs – at least six of which would have to be women to ensure gender parity.

That is in part responsible for the predicament Jackson finds himself in.

However, there are a number of sitting MPs in peril, as well as the aspirant.

On Sunday, Hamilton-based MP Sue Moroney announced she would step down after being told she would not receive a winnable spot on the list.

And former minister Trevor Mallard, who announced last July he would step down from the Hutt South electorate to run as a list-only candidate, has found himself languishing at number 32 on the list.

Then there are the party’s Māori electorate MPs, who announced in March they would forego a spot on the list and focus on winning their individual races, ostensibly to allow more places for Māori in winnable positions.

According to reports, the big winners are Northland candidate Willow-Jean Prime and East Coast candidate Kiri Allan, both Māori women rated highly within the party.

Some reshuffling may now be necessary to prevent Jackson from pulling his name from the list.

However, too dramatic a change runs the risk of upsetting others who feel he is being given preferential treatment.

Add in other wildcards like Ohariu candidate and former Police Association president Greg O’Connor, who may not want to rely on beating incumbent Peter Dunne, and it’s little wonder the selection process gave Labour a headache.

Yet for the party to so publicly deal with its dirty laundry is a bad sign, and undercuts some of Little’s gains in restoring caucus unity after the divisions under previous leaders.

It will have been a late night on Monday for the Labour leader, and it won’t get easier when he faces a grilling from media after the list announcement.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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