Paul Austin puts it well in this morning’s Age:
“On the seventh day, Ted Baillieu blinked.” Victorian Liberal leader
Robert Doyle is safe until April, after Baillieu yesterday ruled out a leadership challenge at this morning’s party meeting.
It’s common ground on both sides that the leadership speculation over
the last few months has not been driven by Baillieu personally – it’s
been others gathering numbers on his behalf. Last week, he apparently
came out of his shell to countenance the effort directly. Yesterday he
went back in again.
No-one thinks that this puts an end to the issue: the bad blood on
display in the last week will not be quickly forgotten. Some of Doyle’s
supporters evidently feel that since a challenge would be bad for the
party, any means, no matter how divisive, are justified in trying to
stop it: hence upper house leader Phil Davis referring to his opponents as “gutless”, “ethically challenged” and “the scum of political life”.
The Age last Friday found 16 of the 31 Liberal MPs (in addition
to Doyle himself) giving Doyle their support. But two of them actually
just said they support “the leader”, and a further three would be on
most lists of anti-Doyle votes. Doyle clearly lacks the numbers to be
sure of seeing off a challenge: estimates range from “too close to call”
to a clear but narrow edge for the anti-Doyle forces. But Baillieu
evidently feels – rightly – that narrow isn’t good enough.
He may have in mind the example of John Howard, whose ultimate triumph
was made possible by his unopposed election to the Liberal leadership
in 1995: he succeeded not by outwitting but by outlasting his
opponents. But Baillieu may also be thinking of one of his political heroes, Jeff Kennett, whose return to the leadership in 1991 was not a coronation but a ruthlessly planned and executed coup.
A comparison between the subsequent state of the federal and Victorian
Liberal Parties might say something about the relative merits of the