Will the Liberals suffer a significant backlash in John Brogden’s old seat of Pittwater? Local Mayor Alex McTaggart has announced he will stand as an independent in the upcoming by-election.

McTaggart seems to be stressing the power of independents over
oppositions to force governments to deliver. “Cr McTaggart also
revealed he expected to meet Premier Morris Iemma within days to
discuss Mona Vale Hospital and also meet Roads Minister Joe Tripodi,”
according to the Manly Daily.

“It was quite obvious to me…the party is torn apart” was the banner headline quote carried by the Daily
yesterday – just two days before tomorrow’s Liberal preselection.
“Manly independent State MP David Barr predicted Alex McTaggart’s
candidature would ‘shake the tree’ at the coming Pittwater by-election,” the Dailyreports today.

A major embarrassment could be looming for the NSW Liberals and their new leader, Peter Debnam.

Left and right wing powerbrokers have come together in a rare display
of unity to impose outsider Paul Nicolaou on an electoral conference
largely subscribing to the wisdom of federal president Brian Loughnane
– that the Liberals must choose local candidates over Party stalwarts.
Many local selectors are convinced a local lass or lad is the only way
to avoid a possible upset at the polls – but enough heavies like
conference president Ross Barlow are following the factional line.

For a party that officially eschews factions, it seems that the State
Council and State Executive members are following the official line and
backing the Nicolaou. Out of the local contenders, Rob Stokes is
performing well with Julie Heggarty a dark horse. As they drive into
the northern beaches on their way to the preselection tomorrow – over
the Spit Bridge and through the ex-Liberal jewel of Manly, held by an
independent for 16 years – the preselectors may pause to consider why.

An outsider is always going to upset a parochial electorate. The entry
of the local mayor is a real challenge in a seat which once nearly went
to surfing champ Nat Young running as an independent.

The last thing the NSW Liberals need is a big swing away from them at
Peter Debnam’s first test as leader – yet losing Pittwater is now a
distinct possibility.