There’s nothing like a good Liberal spat in the Wild West, as Hillary Bray explains.

WA Liberal Party state director Peter Wells has hobbled to the podium and announced the candidates for the party presidency and civil war is underway.

The vote doesn’t take place until July 21, but two competing theories are already being busily talked up: that the centre-right and moderates are going to give the Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters (sometimes known as the NCB right – that would be Noel Crichton-Browne) a beating or that the prince of darkness has been frightfully clever in his choice of candidate. The vote will be crucial, as whoever takes the top job will have a key influence on the future dynamics of the party.

Kim Keogh, the centre-right and moderate candidate, is portrayed by his backers as a quiet achiever who has managed to bring some sorely needed stability to the WA Libs after their disastrous election loss last year. They say the businessman and former pastoralist is a good pragmatic conservative in the best Western Australian tradition. To his opponents he is nothing but a puppet for the terrible twosome of Chris Ellison and Ian Campbell and that’s why they have gone for a candidate with a very strong identity of his own, former minister Graham Kierath.

Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters have made an interesting choice. Keirath may have been a contraversial minister but not to Liberals. His hard line IR reforms made him a local hero to conservative sandgropers and he is considered to have been a competent minister.

Keirath is out for revenge after losing his seat last year. He doesn’t believe his policies unseated him. Instead, he claims that his factional opponents steered resources away from his electorate. For Keirath, the presidency will be a step towards a safe seat and his return to Parliament.

There is a risk in all this for him. After suffering a disproportionate swing against him in last year’s poll, if Keirath fails to win the presidency his reputation will suffer permanent taint. Still, his previous high profile and uncompromising style may well win him the support of some of the wobblier centre-right/moderate voters.

Self appointed future party leader, Matt Birney, will be watching the vote closely. It’s nothing but a win-win situation for him. If Keirath gets up, the right will hold the top position in the party and be able to abet him. If he loses, Birney will simply cement himself as leader of the right.

Senators Campbell and Ellison also have a key interest in the outcome. The State president has access to all membership lists and delegate lists, and with the pair both facing preselection that information could be vital. Advance knowledge of the delegates lets powerbrokers know who they have to nobble or grovel to before the competition begins a crucial strategic edge.

Campbell feels particularly threatened. Like Frankenstein’s monster, he turned on his creator but knows that Voldemort’s revenge will be terrible. Who knows what the Death Eaters are capable of. At the same time, he may well be painted as yesterday’s man, eclipsed as the young rising star of the Western Australian contingent in Canberra by Julie Bishop.

Campbell has not made it to the Ministry, despite his talent and competence and his career has plateaued. He has been loyal to the Prime Miniature, but remains a mere Parliamentary Sec. He has discharged his duties well and made a good leader of government business, but seems stuck in a career cul-de-sac. Voldemort and his followers will portray him as a man who has reached a career dead end with nothing more to offer.

Bishop, meanwhile, has attached herself to the Costello campaign and his key backers, “Bruce Baby” Baird and the Teenage Toecutter, Chris Pyne and is already being tipped as someone to watch if and when Captain Smirk takes the helm of the Starship Free Enterprise.

While Keough probably has the edge, so much is riding on the outcome of the presidential poll that it will be viciously fought. The fun has only just begun.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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