David Cunliffe will be stripped of his portfolios and banished to the back benches for disloyalty today after a leadership vote in which Labour leader David Shearer is set to win unanimous backing.
As expected, yesterday Mr Shearer summoned his MPs to Wellington for an urgent vote today in an attempt to force Mr Cunliffe to "put up or shut up".
On Sunday, Mr Cunliffe had said he welcomed an early vote to settle the matter, but yesterday he said he saw no need for the early vote and would back the current leader.
However, he again refused to rule out a tilt in February, when under party rules the caucus must vote to endorse or oppose the leader.
Mr Shearer said that statement by Mr Cunliffe changed nothing and he would go ahead with today's leadership vote.
"I'm holding this vote to demonstrate I have the support of my caucus and to put recent speculation to bed," he said.
Party sources said once he received the expected unanimous backing from MPs he would dump Mr Cunliffe from the top 20 and send him to the "unranked" back benches.
Some in the caucus are calling for his close supporters to also be demoted, which could mean bad news for shadow attorney-general Charles Chauvel and energy spokeswoman Moana Mackey.
Mr Chauvel said no-one had discussed the matter with him, and he would endorse Mr Shearer today.
David Shearer has certainly acted with some speed to dismiss the current attack on his leadership. The biggest problem he faces however is that David Cunliffe still has significant support with Labour Party members, and with a small number of caucus members. Moving him to the back bench leaves Cunliffe with time on his hands, and as our mother used to tell us "the devil makes work for idle hands".
All is far from well within the Labour caucus, and emotions are running high; read on:
Earlier, senior Whip Chris Hipkins launched a stinging attack on Mr Cunliffe, saying he had undermined the current and previous leaders.
"That's unacceptable. If David Cunliffe wants to challenge for the leadership, he should come out of the shadows and get on with it . . . it is totally unacceptable to say: ‘I'll support David Shearer for now while I work over the summer break to destabilise the leadership and get the numbers to move against him in February'."
MP Sue Moroney, seen as in the Cunliffe camp, said she would back Mr Shearer.
But no-one would say what they would do in February's vote.
"I don't think there has been any challenge issued, actually."
Before Mr Shearer had sought her backing, no-one had asked for her support for a leadership bid.
She had seen no evidence of disloyalty by Mr Cunliffe.
"I'm quite surprised at the level of the attack on David Cunliffe . . . in the last 24 hours," she said. "It seems as if some senior MPs in our caucus are struggling with the level of decision-making the party is now expecting . . . I can't see any other reason why there has been this talk of a leadership challenge."
Sue Moroney seems to be hedging her bets as well. Her claim that there has been no evidence of a leadership challenge is disingenuous to say the least.
The other issue that Shearer faces in demoting Cunliffe is that the latter is one of Labour's strongest debaters. In that context alone, replacing him on the front bench will not be an easy task.
And so it will all come to a head at 4pm this afternoon. David Shearer may have a grip on Labour's leadership for now, but February is fast approaching. And as it approaches, David Cunliffe will have the potential to be fomenting happy mischief on the back bench.
In closing, we are reminded of late 1990, when Jim Bolger demoted a sulking Sir Robert Muldoon to the back bench after Muldoon refused to accept a lower Ministerial role than he felt he deserved. Muldoon was asked if he was going to be a thorn in Bolger's side. "Heh, no" he replied; "just a little prick.". There is a message there for David Shearer.