Supporters of NSW Liberal Right leader David Clarke are confident the powerbroker will retain his NSW Upper House preselection, albeit by a narrow margin, this Friday night.
Clarke has been under threat from former protégé and federal MP Alex Hawke in a clash between what are labelled as Hawke’s “Ambition Faction” and the Howard Right, from which Hawke emerged as a staffer to Clarke earlier in the decade.
The Clarke camp believes that at this stage he is 2-3 votes in front, but expects he will receive support from moderate delegates in the preselection contest, which would boost his margin to 12-13.
Liberal moderates would have been unlikely saviours of Clarke two years ago when the NSW Liberals were engaged in open warfare between moderates and the “religious right” that wrecked moderate leader John Brogden and, many say, lost the party the 2007 election.
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However, since power-sharing reforms in 2008 and the installation of Greiner-era moderate Michael Photios as vice-president, peace, at least by the standards of the NSW Liberals, has broken out. Clarke supporters believe the Left will honour the power-sharing deal and vote to retain the conservative Legislative Councillor rather than see a return to civil war.
The threat to Clarke has come not from the Left but from Alex Hawke and NSW party president and Hawke ally Nick Campbell. The Ambition Faction’s candidate is veteran North Shore Liberal David Elliott. Elliott is currently NSW head of the Civil Contractors Federation but was previously the high-profile head of the Australian Hotels Association and one of the most visible faces of the successful Australians for Constitutional Monarchy campaign to derail the republic vote a decade ago.
Tony Abbott, closely aligned with Clarke, tried unsuccessfully in early February to call for peace and rein in Hawke, who appears anxious to shed his reputation as a religious Right attack dog by publicly terminating the career of his mentor.
Abbott is understood to have demanded Hawke, who had his hopes for promotion to the frontbench dashed under Malcolm Turnbull, concentrate on being an effective backbencher and serving his electorate rather than risking a renewed outbreak of factional hostility just as the party is presenting a united face to the electorate in the lead-up to the 2011 election.
Clarke supporters have suggested that “it will be WW3” if Clarke loses, endangering what should be a gimme election against a truly rotten Labor Government. This is rumoured to extend to the Clarke’s colleague Charlie Lynn resigning from the Liberal Party and attack Hawke and Campbell from the cross-bench.
There are bigger stakes than just Clarke’s preselection in play on Friday night.