Dark and dirty
deeds are always going on in political parties. It’s part of the nature of
politics. Systematic, directed dark and dirty deeds, however, are different. As
the old Chicago gangster saying goes: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times it’s enemy
action.”

Last night’s Four Corners hasn’t really told us anything new about the state of the New South Wales
Liberals. Little old ladies are always going to be upset when confronted by
branch stackers. People who treat political parties as polite social clubs are
going to have their sensibilities offended by activists who want to play
hardball.

What Four
Corners
has done is spell out the scope of
the activities of the party Uglies – and create a real challenge for the Prime
Minister.

It’s a hard ask
for the NSW Liberals to win next March’s state election. Hard, but not
impossible. What they need is unity and focus – two keys to victory that vanish
in the face of faction fighting.

It doesn’t matter
if they come from the right or the left. If a hard core of single issue activists
hijack any party, ordinary members will be driven away.

That’s what’s
happening with the NSW Libs. We’ve described the ins and out of the Epping
preselection over recent months. Four Corners covered it too, as it’s the perfect
microcosm of what’s going on.

There’s nothing new in saying that the zealotry of the uglies, of the hard right, could cost
the NSW Liberals the next state election.

What hasn’t been
pointed to, however, is the impotence of the party’s state executive.

At their meeting
on 16 June, the NSW Liberal state executive voted to suspend all internal
elections until 2008. A memo to this effect from state director Graham Jaeschke
went out on 20 June.

The memo says
elections are suspended to allow branches to concentrate their activities on
the state and federal campaigns. That’s wishful thinking. What executive hopes
is that members might concentrate their fire on Labor, not each other. But
prolonging elections isn’t going to stop the ugly deeds in the NSW Liberals.
They’re designed to win positions and power in the party. They’ll continue until
2008, until the posts are voted on.

A firm lead from
the state executive could put a lid on the right. The will to tackle the
problem, however, is lacking – even at the very top.

The most senior
NSW Liberal is the Prime Minister himself, John Howard – and he’s unwilling or
unable to tackle the rot.

Peter Fray

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