Andrew Olexander, the Victorian upper house MP dropped from its ticket
by the Liberal Party a week and a half ago, evidently feels that he no
longer has anything to lose. First he absented himself from a week of
parliament and party room meetings, then he came out firing, accusing
the party leadership of treachery, bigotry and homophobia.

Leader Robert Doyle couldn’t be expected to ignore this, so he has
called a special party room meeting for today for Olexander to explain
himself – or, as Paul Austin puts it in this morning’s Age, to “show cause why he should not be expelled from the party.”

For Doyle, whose leadership is hanging by a thread, this is dangerous
territory. Supporters of rival Ted Baillieu are confident they have the
numbers if he wants to challenge, but (not surprisingly) Baillieu isn’t
enthusiastic about taking on the job. One argument against a challenge
has been that there would be no party room meeting until February,
which would be too late for a new leader to properly establish himself.
But a meeting next week to debate Olexander’s expulsion would remove
that objection: it could instead become the setting for a leadership

The bigger issue for Baillieu, and for the party room generally, is why
make a change? Next year’s election is already a write-off, so why not
leave Doyle in place until then? Doyle’s opponents say that under him
the party risks going backwards, and that a new leader might at least
set things up for a possible win in 2010. The best that can be said for
this argument is that it is unprovable; in reality, there is no
evidence for it at all.

But it does look as if the ground is shifting. In Monday’s Australian, Glenn Milne claimed that Peter Costello was distancing himself from Doyle’s fortunes, and today’s Herald Sun
reports that “Some in the party’s back room privately admit Mr Doyle
may not be the best person to lead the party to the next election.”

The best outcome for Doyle today would be to secure an abject apology
from Olexander and then declare the matter closed. But that would
require a good deal more luck than Robert Doyle has been getting of