Victorian Liberal leader Robert Doyle has survived to fight another day, after his parliamentary party this morning approved the expulsion of dumped upper house MP Andrew Olexander – AAP reports here. Not to have done so would have amounted to a vote of no confidence in Doyle.

Doyle’s opponents succeeded in their request for a secret ballot, but evidently it did them no good. As is its (rather childish) practice, the Liberal Party has not released the numbers, but no doubt they will leak out during the day.

In any case, the numbers will not necessarily tell the full story. Doyle’s victory could mean that the party is behind him, but it could equally just mean that his opponents are biding their time, or still trying to convince their standard-bearer, planning spokesman Ted Baillieu, to mount a challenge.

Liberal Party opinion seems to be coming around to the view that Baillieu will be leader sooner or later, and at least some of those in the controlling group are trying not to burn their bridges with him. Hence state president Helen Kroger was careful to say, as quoted in Saturday’s Herald Sun, “As state president I support the leader of the parliamentary Liberal Party. The matter of the leadership of the Liberal Party is exclusively a matter for the parliamentary Liberal Party.”

For the anti-Kroger group in the party, it makes more sense to leave Doyle in place until after the election, so they can put all the blame for the expected loss onto their rivals. They would then hope to win a clean sweep of the organisation in 2007, just as the Krogerites did in 2003. But MPs panicky about their seats might not want to wait that long.

This morning’s resolution accused Olexander of “sustained public conduct, which has brought the name and reputation of the Victorian Liberal Party into disrepute”. He remains a member of the Liberal Party – only the organisational wing can expel him, a move observers regard as most unlikely – but is now excluded from the parliamentary party.

That’s one less hostile vote that Doyle has to worry about, but no one imagines that his worries are over.