Late
this morning, after less than a day of frenzied speculation, Jeff
Kennett formally withdrew from the Victorian Liberal Party leadership
race. Which is the worst possible outcome for the state opposition and
leaves them almost certain to go further backwards at the 25 November
election.

Rather than someone like Ted Baillieu emerging as the consensus great white hope
after Robert Doyle’s resignation yesterday, the electorate now knows that most
Liberal powerbrokers believe he was a worse alternative than recycling a
controversial premier. For the Labor Party of course, he’s a much better
alternative – to fend off Jeff, they might have needed to dig into their cash
pit with a well-resourced scare campaign. With Baillieu, the Bracks spin machine
will hardly need to get out of second gear, let along go into overdraft, to
retain office.

Imagine
the scenario if Jeff had come out yesterday and immediately ruled out a
comeback on the basis that Ted Baillieu would make an outstanding
Premier. Instead, we had all this frenzied expectation – and now
nothing more than deflation.

The story now returns to rats
leaving a sinking ship and the Liberal Party being a disorganised
rabble, unable or unwilling to land a decent punch on the Bracks
government.

Kennett has made the right decision for his family
and the influence of wife Felicity should not be underestimated. She’d
walked before and many observers were predicting she would walk again
if Jeff made a political comeback. However, it is the wrong decision
for the party because only Jeff could have averted the inevitable train
wreck – but still fallen short of winning office.

With everyone
from the Prime Minister down effectively admitting the next Liberal
Premier is not yet in the Victorian Parliament, the best solution now
would be to draft some other big name. There’s only one who would have
a realistic chance and that is Michael Kroger.

The
Kroger-Costello forces were about to suffer a major blow if Jeff
returned and it looks like that was exactly what John Howard was hoping
for with his extraordinary endorsement of his old foe last night. Have a listen to that notorious phone call between Jeff and Andrew Peacock again if you need any reminding about this.

Surely
it is time for Michael Kroger to step out of the shadows and take the
leadership. There are seats available, it would stop Kennett allies Ted
Baillieu and Louise Asher from getting the job and Kroger would have a
much better chance of pulling off a miracle win than Jeff.

Sometimes
backroom string pullers need to step up and be counted. The ruling
Kroger-Costello faction has helped make a mess of the Victorian Liberal
Party, so maybe Kroger should take some responsibility and now try and
turn things around.