Is Jeff Kennett really going to make a comeback into Victorian politics? Hillary Bray doubts it very much.

Ted, if the truth be told, does not like being an MP. Yes, embarrassing for one tipped to do great things, but true. Ted prefers things like swimming in the morning than turning up at an electorate office and dealing with the little-advertised but unavoidable parts of politics like whingeing constituents.

That is why, when asked by state party president Ian Carson and metro VP Peter Clarke if he would come in as number two on the ticket for a Louise Asher challenge he declined but said that if Kennett would come back he could have his seat.

That was part one. Then came the funeral of former Melbourne Lord Mayor Peter Costigan. Human headline Derryn Hinch appears to have been amongst the mourners, and came away with two stories he promptly broadcast that the Bracks Government still felt unsure of its grip on power and that the Libs were looking at holding preselections to find a slot for Kennett.

Naturally, this caused some excitement, but a few facts were overlooked minor details like the fact that the Libs had already held preselections for all their winnable seats. With young Ted’s selfless gesture not being widely known, it could have easily been thought the story would go away. Not so. Then came the Sunday Herald Sun splash saying Jeff was set to return.

The Hun sourced its article to “influential Victorian businessmen” who gosh! gasp! had not just conducted a poll, but had had “expensive polling” done. Jeff’s backers, according to the Hun, wanted him “to run for parliament as early as the next state election, even if it means leading the campaign from outside parliament”.

Funny that no seat was mentioned. If a deal had been done with Ted Baillieu, it would have been the main feature of the story and after publicity like that and the predictable, if inevitable, response from Dennis Napthine, the hope of carrying off such a move must have evaporated.

Greater love has no man etcetera, etcetera but after a preselection round like the one just seen in Victoria, exacerbated by a redistribution, it would be most unlikely that a successful candidate would offer up their hard-won seat to Jeff leaving just one option, running in a Labor seat.

Now, Jeff has undeniable star quality but has never made an impression as a marginal seats campaigner. He became Premier in a drover’s dog election with enough momentum and a troubled enough opposition to make winning a second term easy, but stumbled when he went for a third. During the same time he also turned his own seat from a safe Liberal electorate to a Labor marginal. Even the most enthusiastic Jeff supporter must know that it’s extremely unlikely that he could be persuaded to run for a safe Labor seat and even less likely that he would win.

So where did the story come from? That should be the really worrying thing for Victorian Libs, as it seems that their members and supporters contain people stupid enough to dream of a second coming for Kennett without thinking of what it would actually entail and spread the idea around.

Labor surprise, surprise have got hold of it and used it masterfully to focus once again on the issue of the leadership tensions in the weak and divided Liberal Party.

Their attack may well be felt wider than the parliamentary wing. The preselections have caused so much angst that rank and file members are now hunting for someone to challenge Peter Clarke when he makes his expected stab at the presidency next year.

Many ordinary Liberals feel that Carson and Co rode roughshod over internal democracy during the process that they are no longer prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Here, another political comeback occurs. When names are canvassed for possible “members first” candidates to knock off the Carson team come AGM time next year, that of the former Member for Ballarat, Michael Ronaldson, keeps popping up.

He has a better chance than Jeff.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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