A fascinating feature of last week’s political killing season — a Premier and a federal Opposition leader gunned down over three blood-spilling days — was the role of the party puppeteers.

Lurking in the shadows, working the phones, running a surrogate party room network, briefing and debriefing journalists, nuancing votes, finessing the talking points: the past few weeks for Mr Tripodi, Mr Obeid and Senator Minchin have been seasonally frantic but ultimately fruitful. Whether the fruits of their labours will actually benefit their respective parties is a matter for the future.

If all this sounds overly sinister or Machiavellian, it is and it isn’t. Yes, the Puppeteers were instrumental in the downfall of Malcolm Turnbull and Nathan Rees. Yes, there is something inherently dark about a tiny handful of political operators wielding disproportionate and often heavy-handed power to seat and unseat leaders. And yes, the IOUs that come with that power are extremely dubious.

Ultimately, though, the dark art of political puppeteering, like most occupations, works on the principles of supply and demand. If a party leader is performing well in the eyes of the party room, there is little demand for the work of the machinators such as  Tripodi, Obeid and Minchin. It’s only when that support collapses — as it did last week for Turnbull and Rees — that the shadowy forces have the incentive to emerge from their caves to do their dirty work, all in the name of party loyalty, of course.

Peter Fray

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