So farewell then Michael O’Brien, hello Matthew Guy. O’Brien, the former leader of the Opposition in Victoria has been a dead man walking for some time, finding it impossible to find a consistent line against #StandWithDan, #BinDanLaden, take your choice. In the early months of Covid 19, O’Brien couldn’t find a consistent strategy against Dan’s take charge moves, veering between oppositionality and civic support. His opponents, the most visible being Kew MLC Tim Smith, tormented him with mad outlier attacks on ‘Chairman Dan’. The obvious purpose was to prepare the way for a Matthew Guy return, before the election or after a fresh loss. O’Brien fought off a sort of centrist challenge from Brad Battin, with Guy’s help, but O’Brien then failed to win their support.
As with all Liberal Party shenanigans, it’s been presented by the mainstream media as a contest of personalities and individuals.
In fact there’s a politics there, with O’Brien reduced to a bare ten supporters, split half and half between old Melbourne establishment and rural Libs from the old Squattocracy (though not the squattocracy itself). Guy had managed to get well everyone else, in the drive to remake the party as a suburban and exurban outfit, scorning the old establishment. Guy had Christian conservatives as represented by Bev McArthur and the Marcus Bastiaan/Brighton Grammar network (believe it, or not, the school is seen as an insurgent middle class base against the Scotch/Grammar elites) represented by James Newbury, Liberal Jews represented by David Southwick, and the Battin centrists.
This band of desperadoes would have succeeded in taking over the party years ago, had Guy not lost the 2018 election so badly, after supping with a ‘colourful identity’ Rocky Maddifieri at a lobster restaurant, and washing it down with grange hermitage (red wine with seafood – he was gone from that day on). It’s a measure of how dead the old ascendency establishment is in the Liberals that they would return Guy to the leadership.
He may be able to land some blows on a weakened and beleagured Andrews after the failure of this lockdown. Then again, the various religious etc right wing microfactions are now in firm control of the party apparatus in the most left-wing state in the country. It’s just possible this may be a boon for Andrews in the lead up to the 2022 election, giving them not merely victory, but minimising losses. If that happens Guy is gone, O’Brien is out – surely he’s out? – and the Liberal Party will need to reinvent itself to be competitive in the Sweden of the South Seas in 2026. Poor old Obie. He looked establishment. He was 19, and then he was about 85, with no actual adulthood in between. As goes the man so goes the party.