Any idea
of a rapprochement between the Kroger/Costello faction and their
opponents in the Victorian Liberal Party was dynamited this morning by
former state president Joy Howley, as reported in The Age.

is a particular figure of hate for the Kroger/Costello people, who
blame her for engineering the dumping of Senator Karen Synon in 1998.
Today she gives them both barrels, accusing them of “thuggery” – “if
anyone is seen associating with people who have challenged the current
regime in any way, they are then punished” – and of complete
subservience to Costello’s prime ministerial ambitions: “‘But what
happens to the Victorian division if he doesn’t get there? What’s Plan
B?’ she said.”

This is pretty routine stuff, notable only for
the fact that it’s made it into the media. But Howley also raises the
big sleeping issue in Victoria – Robert Doyle’s leadership. “I think
there is a real issue there because all the polling tells us we can’t
win with Robert… the electorate hasn’t warmed to him and as a
consequence the party has a real challenge confronting it.”

clearly true as far as it goes. No political leader has ever come back
from the sort of defeat Doyle suffered in 2002. The opinion polls,
having briefly had the opposition in a competitive position early this
year, have returned to reporting minimal change (see latest Newspoll here).

there’s no evidence that Doyle is especially to blame for that. Nor is
there any obvious alternative: the contenders from Howley’s faction,
Louise Asher, Ted Baillieu and Phil Honeywood, have all been
uninspiring to say the least. And to make a change close to the
election – as they did with Doyle, and as their NSW counterparts did
twice – just risks writing off two leaders instead of one.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey