High-profile Liberal candidate in the inner-city battleground seat of Richmond, Tom McFeely, is believed to have resigned the party and his candidacy in an eloquent email sent to party HQ at 104 Exhibition Street this morning.
The prominent figure in Melbourneâ€™s gay community, and owner of the gay pub Peel Hotel in Collingwood, is believed to have quit in frustration after a series of spats with party apparatchiks over the direction of his campaign.
McFeely is believed to have been a generous donor to the party, giving as much as $50,000 over the past couple of years, so losing him will be a real blow to inner-city campaign coffers.
LIBERAL HQ IN CHAOS OVER WITHDRAWAL
104 sources told VEXNEWS that the situation â€“ as at 2pm â€“ had been â€˜resolvedâ€™ after party officials turned him around. This is strongly disputed by sources close to McFeely as at 2.30pm who say he has made his decision and like Margaret Thatcher he is not for turning.
VEXNEWS has learned that McFeely originally agreed to be a candidate only after some heavy-duty persuasion from senior figures in the party including local party chairman Stuart McCraith and 104 officials as prominent as party director Tony Nutt encouraged him to fly the partyâ€™s flag in the inner-city lefty seat.
McFeely reluctantly agreed after being disappointed not to have been given preselection in a winnable seat. Sources close to McFeely say he had arranged his business affairs in such a way to free him up to campaign pretty much on a full-time basis.
HOW TO TURN A KEEN CANDIDATE INTO A TRAINWRECK
The enthusiastic candidate went to a professional photographer and commissioned a series of photographs, spending over $2000 of his own money, insiders say.
When he sent his preferred pic to be put on corflute cardboard posters, young know-alls at 104 told him they didnâ€™t like his choice and directed him to choose another. When he refused, we understand one went behind his back to the photographer and procured another â€“ more conservative looking â€“ photograph and purported to buy the rights to it.
At this point, things turned very nasty between 104 and McFeely and the photographer. McFeely threatened legal action, rightly and understandably explaining that he and he alone was the owner of the photographs, insiders say.
GAGGED BY 104
Further drama occurred when McFeely was interviewed â€“ we believe on MTR radio â€“ where he gave a strong account of himself but had committed the original sin of not clearing the interview first with party higher-ups. He was apparently reprimanded for this.
After stewing on the matter over the weekend, the flamboyant business owner who combines a love for Margaret Thatcher with ownership of one Melbourneâ€™s best-known gay venues had decided enough was enough.
Around 10am today he is believed to have sent his driver to 104 Exhibition Street armed with a lengthy exposition of his resignation and the reasons why.
We understand that an emergency phone hook-up involving party leader Ted Baillieu, party director Tony Nutt and president David Kemp occurred directing Nutt to try to talk McFeely around. It appears that they were unsuccessful.
It is believed he will probably continue his bid for Richmond but instead as an independent. He might actually stand a chance of winning, his backers say, without his campaign being interfered with by party HQ. With a Labor minister seeking re-election, the Greens party vote surging, a popular lefty candidate Stephen Jolly and now a prominent right-wing independent all having a go, Richmond looks like it will be one of the most fascinating battle-grounds in this Victorian election.
THURSDAY UPDATE: Tom McFeely has reconsidered and has withdrawn his resignation from the Liberal party and will be resuming his candidacy as a Liberal. Never a dull moment.