Labour leader David Shearer is brushing off a crescendo of calls for him to step down by left-leaning bloggers and commentators, saying it is "nonsense" and should be ignored.
Discontent with Mr Shearer's leadership does not appear to have galvanised any challenges to his position, but it is damaging and has allowed right-wing bloggers to claim a campaign is under way to undermine Shearer in the lead-up to the party's conference this weekend.
The open criticism has so far largely been from party members and supporters but there is concern it is starting to spill over into the caucus and there is pressure on Mr Shearer to perform well at the conference.
Labour will introduce a new process to elect its leader at that conference - including giving members 40 per cent of the share of the vote which determined the leader and party affiliates 20 per cent. Currently only caucus votes on the leader.
The series of those calling for Shearer to step down included three bloggers on the Standard blog, although another Standard blogger, former Labour secretary Mike Smith, counselled against a change. Other critics included Brian Edwards, who has consistently been critical of Shearer, and Herald columnist Tapu Misa.
Yesterday the three MPs regarded as having leadership goals - Grant Robertson, David Cunliffe and Andrew Little - all ruled out any immediate challenge and rejected suggestions they were involved in any attempt to undermine Mr Shearer.
Deputy leader Mr Robertson said he had no intention of challenging Mr Shearer and dismissed the criticism, saying Labour was doing well and closing the gap with National.
"I'm backing David 100 per cent."
David Cunliffe, who lost in the leadership contest against Mr Shearer last year and was perceived to have more support among the members, said Mr Shearer had his support as leader. Asked if he would run for the leadership again he said,"Crikey dick - I haven't crossed that bridge at all. I am very clear that our leader has my support."
He said Labour had a lot of "weighty matters" to get through, including a modernisation process.
Andrew Little, when asked whether he would rule out running for the leadership, said a change of leadership was not currently an issue within Labour. He said he had not seen the blogs in question.
Mr Shearer said the spate of calls consisted of "a small circle of bloggers feeding off each other and I'm surprised the media is taking it seriously. It's nonsense."
He said Labour had halved the gap in the polls between Labour and National since the last election.
"We'll continue to take it to the Government and stand up for what matters to Kiwis. That's jobs, education, a strong economy and the opportunity for every Kiwi to get ahead."
At the conference Labour is expected to make organisational changes recommended after a major review of the party following its abysmal election result in 2011.By Claire Trevett @CTrevettNZH Email Claire