On Friday evening, the Liberal state assembly in Victoria is meeting to select an acting president to replace resigned Svengali, Michael Kroger.
There are three candidates: long-term administrative committee Cassandra (who now has the satisfaction of being proved right about the woes of the party) Ian Quick; respected party elder Marcia Coleman and the long-serving but just defeated Box Hill MP, Robert Clark.
Kroger’s rival in last April’s presidential contest Greg Hannan who, despite Kroger supporters’ claims of massive margins, actually gave the wily Kroger a massive fright, has wisely chosen not to stand, putting party unity above personal ambition. More will be heard of him.
The party’s Young Turks will be disappointed one of their own isn’t standing. But frankly, this is a time for wise heads, not youthful know-it-allness. The three candidates each have experience, insight and patience. They know that rebuilding Victorians’ trust in the Liberal brand to be even vaguely competitive again with Labor at state and federal levels is a multi-term proposition. They know that the damage done by organisational players and power-broking MPs, alienating donors and supporters in the name of personal and factional power, has eaten like a malicious acid at the party’s Menzian heart.
And they know that the lessons of 24 November must be learned and applied, not just given lip service and an off-the-shelf review.
That means the new president having the internal and external stature to inspire Liberals and their supporters, whether conservative or moderate. It means having a firm grasp of the policy challenges facing a decimated and under-strength parliamentary party. And, after the fiasco of the Victorian election campaign, they must not be – or seen to be – the proxy of Kroger or any other former president or factional heavy.
While each of the three candidates are decent people and have merit, just one ticks all of these boxes: Robert Clark. In losing his seat last month, Clark didn’t rush into the media in surreal denial as did certain others, but rather showed grace and dignity, putting aside his own hurt to immediately plunge himself into helping his battered party as it braces for the federal reckoning next May almost certainly will bring. He commands respect among both the party’s organisational heavies and grassroots and is no factional player. Business donors will see him as a safe pair of hands.
Most importantly, however, as his shrewd post-election analysis for Flat White of the Victorian fiasco showed, Clark grasps the steep intellectual, policy and political challenges that lie ahead for the Liberals, and for that alone, he will be a non-upstaging pillar of strength for the new state parliamentary leader, Michael O’Brien.
As a defeated MP, it’s easy to write off Clark as being the past. But there is no future without a past, and no understanding without insight. Clark offers these and should be chosen by his party peers to bind the party’s wounds and start leading it on the long road to electoral redemption in Victoria — and nationally.
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