Monday’s Crikey report about the looming purge of the Liberal dissidents who joined Peter King’s campaign in Wentworth has generated a whole range of comments – most of them along the lines of “Do these people really think that if you’re rich enough or connected enough, the Liberal Party constitution doesn’t apply to you?”
Liberals who joined King’s campaign broke a fundamental rule of the party – that Liberals don’t run against an endorsed Liberal, or support a person running against an endorsed Liberal. The penalty for this has always been expulsion from the Party. Last year, a mob of Liberal dissidents who missed out in pre-selections but ran against endorsed candidates in the NSW local government elections were tossed out with barely a whimper. But most of these were Westies, and we know they don’t count.
Peter King is a former NSW Liberal state president. He knows the rules. Wentworth normally bankrolls other Liberal campaigns. Instead, it consumed resources the party strategists hoped to plough into Labor-held marginals. Most of his supporters have been entirely unrepentant. Instead, they’ve claimed a higher loyalty – to the Queen, rather than that beastly republican Malcolm Turnbull. Hello? Don’t they remember King’s wife, Fiona Sinclair-King, was a mover and shaker in Australian Conservatives for a Republic?
NSW Liberal sources say that this is what the debate really comes down to: a bunch of rich, high-Tories thinking that they can walk all over the Party rules because they’re, well, rich and monarchists and had “strong beliefs” against Turnbull. It’s crap, of course. A lot of Liberals have strong beliefs on a whole range of issues, but when it comes to election day they either toe the line or stay at home, not sabotage campaigns.
Sincerity is an overrated virtue. Liberals who oppose gay marriage don’t run Independent campaigns against Bruce Baird. They may feel strongly about issues – but they abide by the decision of the pre-selection college. The real victims of Wentworth will be the people who supported King up to his pre-selection in good faith and then did the right thing and supported Turnbull, the endorsed candidate, at the election – if the King’s men are let off. If treachery gets off scot-free, it will show the Liberals place no value on loyalty. Even worse, it will suggest that there’s one rule for the masses out west and one for Bellevue Hill.
What the NSW Liberals do now will be a touchstone for the future. Wentworth today, but what seat tomorrow?