The exit of three senior moderates from the hierarchy of the NSW Liberal Party is the surest sign that federal leader Dr Brendan Nelson and state leader Barry O’Farrell have decided to live with the factions that keep the party divided and therefore unelectable.

Neither leader has the stomach to conduct a clean-out of the factions, the hardline right or the “wets”, which are as bad as each other in terms of back-stabbing, branch-stacking, policy extremes and general eye-swivelling weirdness.

Instead, Nelson and O’Farrell have chosen the easy path and accepted an internal party reform agenda which has been worked out in the party backrooms between the right and left.

When party president Geoff Selig, treasurer Robert Webster and senior vice president Rhonda Vanzella realised they had been blindsided and a deal had been done on new party rules, they jointly quit in high dudgeon.

The trio believes that only a root and branch rewriting of the rules will end the kind of madness which saw the new federal MP for Cook, Scott Morrison, prevented from joining a branch in his own electorate after the November election.

They gave no warning to Nelson or O’Farrell, thereby underlining their annoyance at the weakness of the two leaders and the lost opportunity to democratise the party and take it out of the grip of the factions and return it to the sensible centre of politics.

The state executive on Friday night, followed by a full state council on Saturday, will hear parliamentary reports from both leaders. The Saturday meeting has suddenly become a sell-out affair with attendance records likely to be shattered: everyone wants to hear the gossip about the departing trio and the latest on Malcolm Turnbull’s steady rise to replace the good doctor with the funny hair and the 9% popularity rating.

This will be the first state council attended by the party’s new state director, 34-year-old Mark Neeham, formerly state director in WA, and it will be a baptism of fire for the English-born Tory.

At least he won’t have to handle any allegations of chair-sniffing. Well, not any that we know of … yet.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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