Federal Liberal Party director Brian Loughnane and shadow cabinet minister Tony Abbott were spotted at one of Canberra’s premier eateries last night.

The two didn’t join the hoi polloi in the main dining room of The Chairman and Yip in Civic but went upstairs to a private room to break bread and discuss the tumultuous “Sorry” day in federal parliament.

Loughnane is reeling from the election defeat. His closest supporters are telling all and sundry: “Don’t blame Brian. Howard didn’t listen to him throughout the campaign. The whole thing was run by John and Janette.”

Abbott is reeling for other reasons. He regarded the election defeat as an inevitability but he was humiliated by the allocation of shadow portfolios. Not only did he lose health and party leadership in the house to Joe Hockey, the Bunteresque leader of the moderates, but he also missed out on all the big portfolios of state – treasury, defence, education, foreign affairs, finance, trade and workplace relations. He ended up way down the pecking order as the shadow minister for families, communities and indigenous affairs.

He still nurses leadership ambitions even though he pulled out of the last December’s leadership race when a deal was done to support Brendan Nelson — for the time being.

No doubt the conversation over dinner between Loughnane and the “Mad Monk” turned to Nelson’s “sorry” performance which has disappointed a whole swathe of the Liberal Party.

To small ‘l’ Liberals, his speech was ungracious, inappropriate and off-the-mark, while the rusted-on Howardistas thought it was tantamount to treachery. Nelson is discovering rapidly that the party’s so-called “broad church” is little more than a factional war zone.

Without a trace of irony, Nelson told MPs in his speech in reply: “Now knowing who you are is the source of deep, scarring sorrows, the real meaning of which can be known only to those who have endured it.” The former medico and ALP activist from Tasmania could have been talking about himself.

Peter Fray

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