Not quite a Night of the Long Knives; more a Day of the Sponge Mops.

Andrew Little's first reshuffle of rankings and shadow portfolio responsibilities within the Labour caucus is - by his party's standards - a major clean-up and clean-out of MPs who Little sees as either past their political use-by date or close to it. Or whose faces do not fit with his plans for revitalising Labour.

The extent of this purge reveals much about the manner in which the new Labour leader intends to proceed with that huge task. He has torn up the manual on how to conduct reshuffles - at least the pages mentioning the cautious approach Helen Clark took when she was leader. She was wary of the fundamental rule of reshuffles: that you will always create more enemies than allies.

Clark's reshuffles were little reshuffles. Now we have the phenomenon of a Little reshuffle - one which sees the leader seemingly throwing caution to the wind.

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In doing so, Little is intimating his style of leadership will be more direct, more ruthless. There will be no fence-sitting which leaves gaps for the Greens and New Zealand First to exploit. He is intimating Labour has been too woolly and too soft.

So three longstanding MPs are dumped from the front bench - David Cunliffe, David Parker and Clayton Cosgrove - to make room for the likes of relative unknowns such as Carmel Sepuloni and David Clark.

Prime Minister John Key is predicting Little's reshuffle will end up creating a back bench filled with "misery and discontent". He may be right given the extent of the clean-out. But some aspects of the revamp have been driven by constraints on choice.

Grant Robertson, for example, was really the only option as finance spokesman. It may be second prize after narrowly missing out on the leadership. But it is a second prize which may unleash Robertson's strengths to full effect.

Likewise, Little was clearly less than impressed with aspirants for the party's deputy leadership. That has resulted in him seemingly cutting across the image of rejuvenation that he has sought to create by installing veteran MP Annette King in the job. Her elevation is a stop-gap move. It offers time for someone to emerge from the throng who deserves the title.