The possible return of Jeff Kennett to the Liberal leadership completely re-energised the boring world that has become Victorian politics under Steve Bracks – until it all ended 18 hours after it began in a media scrum at AFL house yesterday afternoon.
Jeff sells newspapers like no other Victorian political figure so he could have expected the media, especially old backers like the Herald Sun, 3AW and Channel Nine, to leap right onto his bandwagon. However, Andrew Bolt launched an extraordinary and quite unfair attack on the Kennett legacy in Friday’s Herald Sun – a surprise move that might well have contributed to the backflip.
But what would a Jeff comeback have meant for the Liberal vote come 25 November? The huge anticipation around Jeff and his larger than life profile would certainly have made it more of a contest. Many Jeff critics have mellowed over the years as Labor’s creeping nanny state, blow-outs on major projects and sweetheart union deals have chipped away at Victoria’s comparative economic strength.
Mental health is becoming flavour of the month for politicians, yet Jeff has been softening his hardman image as chairman of Beyond Blue for the past few years. Sure, he was a flop in business and failed as a shock jock, but the turnaround of Victoria’s economic performance and even popular major events such as the Commonwealth Games and the Grand Prix were snaffled by his government.
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That said, the Labor Party would have had a huge well of dirt to run and they have the cash pile to run a well-resourced scare campaign if it had been needed. With Ted Baillieu of leader, the Bracks spin machine will hardly need to get out of second gear, let along go into overdraft, to retain office.
Jeff’s strategy would have been to talk about the future, not the past, but “Guilty Party” ads raising the spectre of 10,000 retrenched teachers, 300 closed schools and missing Henry Bolte portraits from the National Gallery of Victoria would have made his record the major election issue – both at a policy and propriety level.