Victorian party director Tony Nutt is being given the credit for the astonishing change of mind made by Liberal candidate Tom McFeely after he quit the party and his candidacy yesterday morning only to back on track by late evening.
VEXNEWS exclusively revealed McFeelyâ€™s decision to quit yesterday. We are now in a position to provide a detailed update.
SIX HOUR MARATHON TALKS
Sources familiar with the matter have told VEXNEWS that the party boss responded to a call from McFeely in the early evening and swopped upon him, attending the McFeely residence for some six hours of marathon talks.
Whatever Nutt said to McFeely is a closely guarded secret but the conclusion of the talks was that the high-profile gay community leader was back on deck and ready to sail.
VEXNEWS understand that the Liberal hierarchy was so keen to smooth over the troubled waters that Nutt even proposed that state party leader Ted Baillieu drop over for a near-midnight courtesy visit where he would reiterate Nuttâ€™s lavish apologies for any misunderstandings that may have arisen in the course of the campaign. McFeely was gracious enough to indicate that generous gesture wasnâ€™t necessary.
Yesterday, we reported that various clumsy acts by Nuttâ€™s staff at 104 Exhibition Street had led to a number of spats between the star candidate and the party machine.
There was more to it though, insiders say, with McFeely feeling concerned that he was being treated like a dill by the party in circumstances where he was doing them a huge favour in running and has been a generous financial backer of the party.
McFeely had run for preselection for the second position on the Liberal ticket for the Metropolitan North province in the Legislative Council, a much prospective opportunity than running as a Liberal in the lefty seat of Richmond.
Despite promises from a number of people including local party official Stuart McCraith and others of strong support, when it came to a vote, insiders say, McFeely was knifed in favour of a more â€œsocially conservativeâ€ candidate in the form of Craig Ondarchie.
Party officials are believed to be very relieved to have McFeely back in the cart and are amazed Tony Nutt was able to get it done. Insiders say McFeely is realistic about his chances in Richmond â€“ partly why he was so insulted at being second-guessed in the first place â€“ but looks forward to a strong showing that will improve his profile in the party.
Meanwhile, there continues to serious dispute within the Liberal party over Ted Baillieuâ€™s almost certain plan to enter into a preference deal with the extreme-left Greens party that promises death taxes, massive hikes in electricity prices and the closure of the Melbourne zoo.
A MATTER OF PREFERENCE
Essentially the battle-lines within the party on the issue are between federally focused Liberals who believe Baillieu needs to harden up and not have any association with the extreme-left party and state-focused Liberals who just want to get a decent result and donâ€™t want feuding. Some expressed shock that state campaign spokesman David Davis has weighed in defending the Greens over allegations one of their candidates takes money from the coal industry and has profited from mining-related property development.
Baillieu is believed to have asked Michael Oâ€™Brien to monster dissidents â€“ from his own Costello/Kroger faction â€“ who have been speaking publicly in opposition to the leaderâ€™s plan to help the extreme-left party in return for not much.
Oâ€™Brien in full flight can be quite an intimidating sight, insiders say, and his principal role in the campaign is to silence critics of Baillieuâ€™s proposed plan with the Greens.
Itâ€™s not worked that well so far though with senior figures Senator Helen Kroger and party strategists Tony Barry and Ian Hanke all condemning the preference hand-out as unprincipled, Liberal brand-damaging and bad for the country. The former PM John Howard has said much the same. One source, far too sympathetic to Red Ted than he should, told VEXNEWS that Howardâ€™s pronouncement all but guaranteed that Baillieu would preference the Greens. He doesnâ€™t like Howardâ€™s style apparently, never forgiving him for knifing Peacock all those years ago and perhaps envying his considerable electoral success.
Whatâ€™s regarded by well-placed insiders as essentially certain at this point is that the Liberals will go to the Greens ahead of Labor despite the ongoing public dispute over the issue. Less clear is whether the Greens will offer anything meaningful in return. While definitely useful tactically to the party, many Liberals are still unconvinced that the party can benefit from associating itself with the left fringe of politics which promises policies that are an anathema to party supporters and donors.
Some are counting the days â€“ hoping Baillieu loses â€“ and planning to revive the state party by clearing out the long-serving deadwood the current leadership has desperately fought to retain in order to preserve Baillieuâ€™s hold on the leadership.