In calling a party meeting
next Tuesday to move for the expulsion of Andrew Olexander, Victorian
Liberal leader Robert Doyle has issued a gilt-edged invitation to his
enemies to make a leadership challenge. He even revealed what everyone
already knew, that his potential challenger is shadow planning minister
Ted Baillieu.

The way Doyle has set things up, Baillieu doesn’t
even have to declare himself in advance: his supporters just need to
vote down the expulsion of Olexander. Although Doyle is reported
saying “he would stay as leader in [that] event,” his position would be
untenable: to all intents and purposes the vote on Olexander will be a
vote of confidence in Doyle. In Paul Austin’s words, it is “crash through or crash.”

problem is that there’s no evidence that a leadership change will make
any difference to the Liberals’ fortunes. Their best chance would be
for Doyle’s opponents to pull their heads in and let the party present
a united front for the next twelve months. But that’s not going to
happen: partly because they’re out for revenge for what they see as
Doyle’s destabilising of the previous leader, Denis Napthine, and
partly because some of them genuinely believe that a new leader will
reduce the scale of next year’s anticipated defeat.

Given all of
that, it makes sense for Baillieu to challenge. It might not fit with
his career plans, but if he doesn’t move now he will always be
vulnerable to the reproach that he didn’t have the “ticker” for it –
that he was too selfishto put his hand up when the party needed him.

party’s organisational wing is still pro-Doyle, but they can’t dictate
to the parliamentary party and they know they just risk losing face if
they try. Peter Costello, who yesterday gave what theHerald Sun
described as “less than full backing of Mr Doyle,” is not consciously
trying to cut Doyle loose, but he knows that ultimately he has to work
with whoever the parliamentary party chooses.