So Peter King is contesting Wentworkth, but what do Crikey’s critics have to say on the matter?

Christian Kerr writes:

Oh surprise, surprise! Peter King is contesting Wentworth. It’s a spotfire in what should be a safe seat that the Prime Minister does not need – but isn’t as bad as it could be. King has said he will not be preferencing Labor – presumably so he doesn’t completely cruel the political ambitions of his wife Fiona, already active in local government and said in some circles to have an eye on the safe state seat of Vaucluse.

John Howard has had to deal with independent disendorsed Liberals before. His old friend Alan Rocher became an independent in 1995 after he lost preselection for his Western Australian seat of Curtin to a rampant Noel Crichton-Browne machine in 1995. He was safely returned in 1996 and played nicely with his former colleagues during the first term of the Howard Government.

Much the same happened to another Western Australian Lib, Paul Filing, elected Member for Moore in 1990 and purged by the NCB forces in 1995. He went to the crossbenches, first claiming to be a dumped moderate, but then flirted with One Nation before losing his seat at the 1998 poll.

2004, of course, will be a much tighter competition than 1996 – and Sydney’s eastern suburbs are much more, er, cosmopolitan and volatile than the Perth burbs.

However, Malcolm Turnbull – for all the controversy surrounding him – is a quality candidate. He is a credible contender who is working the grassroots as hard as any marginal MP – who comes with very deep pockets.

Wentworth is an unwanted distraction for the Liberal Party. But until the nominations have closed and King has made his decision about where his preferences will go, it is not a lost cause.

And here is Hugo Kelly’s take:

It’s official. Peter King is the latest – and biggest – Liberal rat to jump ship in this weird election campaign. King woke up this morning and called John Howard with the bad news. They had, he said, “a cordial chat”, then he went to Bondi beach to announce his news.
What a contest Wentworth promises to be. Standing in front of the meeja pack and a flock of supporters, King was confident – cocky, even – and gave the air of a man who believes he can win as a rebel Liberal Independent.

And why not? He’s the sitting member in a solid conservative seat, he clearly has a local following, he’s armed with some good private polling. And he appears to be capturing the zeitgeist – the underlying dissatisfaction with Howard amongst many traditional “small l” Liberal voters.

This morning, he spoke of the environment, aged care, kids in detention, and dissatisfaction with the two party system. Issues that many Coalition supporters are frustrated and dismayed about. The Doctors’ wives are listening.

If King can win Wentworth, or push it into Labor’s grasp, surely it’s curtains for Howard. But, of course, the cynics will agree with the journo who asked latter-day greenie King: “Where are the old growth forests in Wentworth?”

Our Senior Labor Insider writes:

The SMH carred an interesting piece by Rob Shilkin a former Liberal Party worker living in Wentworth, who compared the Peter King decision to stand as an independent against Malcolm Turnbull, to the 1996 defections in Perth of Paul Filing and Allan Rocher.

The problem with the comparison is that in 1996, both Filing and Rocher had the clear sympathy of John Howard. Howard made clear he supported both men, and was angry at their dumping by the Noel Crichton Browne faction.

While Howard did not campaign for either, both were able to use the nod from Howard to successfully argue that Liberal supporters could safely park their vote with the two independents and support Howard, while sending a message to the NCB forces.

The strategy was a success and both were elected (though both also lost their seats in 1998).

The difference with Peter King is that he is striking out on an entirely different path. While Rocher and Filing stood as conservative independent Howard Liberals, King knows to win he has to appeal to both blue blood Liberals and the soft Green vote – the so-called “doctors wives”, and is thus ditching his Howard Liberal baggage as quickly as he can.

Hence his sudden support for ending child detention and his call for a more compassionate refugee policy. Today he’s added to that with words about old growth forests.

The ALP now has a big call to make.

It now fancies its chances in the seat, but must decide whether this is realistic. If not it is better to run dead, come 3rd and give King a win on preferences.

King says his supporters should give preferences to Turnbull – so even if he comes 3rd he is unlikely to give the seat to Labor. But if he finishes 1st or 2nd his preferences are not distributed, and he will need Green and ALP preferences to get him over the line.

For Howard the King defection adds to the perception the Liberals are a bit of a rabble – Queensland is a disaster which will only get worse as the campaign wears on. Now, King’s defection only adds to this impression. As Lady Bracknell might have put it “to have one state branch split might be considered unfortunate, to have two sounds downright careless”.

On top of this is now the very real prospect that the Liberals might lose one of their star recruits – Malcolm Turnbull – before he’s even made it into Parliament.

Normally this is the sort of thing that happens to Labor (a la Cheryl in 1998 and 2001), the fact it is all on the Liberal side for once can only be a boost to Latham and undermine Howard’s re-election campaign.