New South Wales is currently the state getting the
attention for Liberal preselections, notably the battle for Epping between Pru Goward and the hard right. But yesterday the spotlight
turned briefly to Victoria, as new leader Ted Baillieu tried – and
failed – to get his ally Peter Clarke chosen as the candidate for
Warrandyte, being vacated by former deputy leader Phil Honeywood.

In terms of sheer factional nastiness, the Victorian
Liberal Party can’t compete with NSW. But it’s no bed of roses either,
and with an election only five months off there are no signs of an
improvement in relations between Baillieu and the Kroger-Costello
forces who control the party’s organisational wing.

Witness the
comments by an anti-Baillieu source quoted in today’s Herald Sun: “This is a punch to the solar plexus of the Baillieu faction … It
was ham-fisted politics by Ted to get involved in a factional fight
like this, instead of getting out there and campaigning.”

Truth is, a leader is damned either way on
preselections: if he intervenes, he’s accused of playing favourites and
risks the embarrassment of losing. If he doesn’t, he’s accused of being
afraid to get his hands dirty, and risks having drongoes get selected.
Let’s face it, for a party so low on parliamentary talent, getting good
candidates up is probably worth a lot more than one Sunday’s worth of
missed campaigning.

The word beforehand was that Honeywood had control
of his branches sewn up, and would be able to deliver the result to his
preferred candidate, Ryan Smith. Without Baillieu’s intervention,
Clarke probably wouldn’t have had a chance: it’s testimony of a sort to
his persuasiveness that Smith only won by one vote.

The Age has the wrong end of the stick when it reports that “The result is a victory for the Kroger-Costello forces, and
represents a defeat of sorts for state Liberal leader Ted Baillieu”.

Baillieu had his prestige on the line much more explicitly than his
opponents did. Although the Kroger-Costello group opposed Clarke, Smith
is Honeywood’s man rather than theirs.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey