It isn’t just political biographies penned by academics that are causing political heartburn to the Howard government. The front page news in The Australian concerns the branch stacking and business adventures of the newly-almost-endorsed candidate for the safe Sydney seat of Cook, Michael Taouk/Towke.

The right wing of the NSW Libs, led by David Clarke, got behind Mr Towke. Sources told Crikey today that former NSW Liberal Party Regional President James Young, a close ally of Clarke, ran Towke’s preselection campaign. That campaign was based on Mr Towke’s credentials as a conservative church-goer and a local businessman with a string of large clients.

Towke claimed to run a super-duper security company with such huge clients as pharmaceutical company Pfizer. The Tele’s headline (“PM’s candidate lacks security”) says it all, as does the Tele’s photos of Towke’s business headquarters in Redfern.

Of course, Towke is hardly the PM’s candidate. In NSW, the PM and the Right don’t always see eye-to-eye on preselections. The PM would have preferred an experienced campaigner like former NSW Liberal Party State Director Scott Morrison to have won the ballot for Bruce Baird’s old seat. Whilst Morrison is definitely a social conservative, he also is at the same time a political pragmatist who recognises ideology sometimes has to make way for electoral reality. Morrison is also a formidable campaigner.

The problem is that Morrison was eliminated early in the preselection ballot. Then again, so was the Left’s star candidate and barrister Mark Speakman. All this shows that the far-Right have become a formidable source of numbers. The Party’s moderate faction will be licking their wounds.

Still, they have no right to complain. After all, they used the same stacking strategies to dislodge local member Stephen Mutch in favour of Bruce Baird in the lead-up to the 1998 federal election. Howard, on that occasion, did little to save the small-“c” conservative Mutch, who by all accounts was a popular local member. Even after he was rolled in a Left stack, Mutch took it on the chin and didn’t spit the dummy by running as an independent.

The preselection of ideologically “sound” candidates (whether from left or right) might work well in internal factional brawls. But when such candidates fly the party flag, the Libs could find even relatively safe electorates becoming marginal. More importantly, it’s one thing to stack fake members into branches. It’s another thing to get them to man booths on polling day.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey