Who hits the phone when, at the start of a seemingly hopeless federal election campaign, a rogue backbencher openly mocks your official "talking points" on breakfast television? Who calms the troops when a veteran MP calls for an outbreak of anti-asylum-seeker rhetoric to sandbag marginal seats?

Inside the Prime Minister’s Office, the shit sandwiches all fall on the plate of one man, Julia Gillard's chief of staff and fixer extraordinaire Ben Hubbard. And on the other side of Parliament House, silently punching the air and honing her small-target strategy, lies his opposite number, veteran Tony Abbott counsel Peta Credlin.