Do the ides have it? A date with destiny for Victorian Liberal leader
Ever since Julius Caesar was stabbed to death in the Roman Senate, March 15 has been considered an unlucky day for politicians. Like Caesar, Liberal leader Michael O’Brien ignored weeks of whispers warning “Beware the Ides of March”, only to betrayed by a colleague on Monday.
For months now it has been difficult to find a member of the Victorian Liberal Party who was confident O’Brien would lead them to the next election. It has always been a matter of when, not if. Recently, The Age reported a new plot to challenge O’Brien in one of three sitting weeks before March. The story was dismissed, the warnings were ignored.
Victorian Liberal leader Michael O’Brien ignored the warnings of an impending challenge.Credit:Scott McNaughton
Again, on Saturday night when Labor recorded a historic victory in Western Australia, O’Brien’s office tried to spin the loss as a consequence of switching from an experienced leader to someone lacking in credibility. They naively thought the party would lap it up.
The Liberal Party’s loss in Western Australia left it reduced to just two seats in that state’s Parliament. It was the final straw for self-interested MPs in Victoria, terrified of losing their seats next year.
The only reason O’Brien had remained safe for so long was the lack of a credible challenger. A separate plot to reinstall Matthew Guy as leader has been under way for weeks. Guy’s backers thought they had more time.
The majority of the party room now believe Guy would win in a contest between him and O’Brien.
On Monday, Brad Battin – Spring Street’s answer to Brutus – scuttled that plan when he revealed his own plan to topple O’Brien. But, in doing so, he may have gifted O’Brien more time. It is likely that a majority of MPs will support the motion to spill the leadership positions. But Battin may struggle to secure enough votes to become leader.
The Age has been told a crucial voting block is planning to vote in favour of the spill to damage O’Brien, before supporting him in a vote for the leadership. They hope this strategy will fatally wound O’Brien but give them more time install their own candidate in the coming months.
It’s risky. From all accounts, Battin’s pitch for the leadership was juvenile and lacked detail. With roughly 11 locked-in supporters, Battin still needed to woo at least five more MPs to get the job.
If he pulls it off, it will put an end to O’Brien’s leadership hopes and simultaneously ensure Guy doesn’t return as Opposition Leader this term.
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