Deb dumps Belinda and sends a signal to the machine
The first thing the ALP needs to do now Belinda Neal has lost her pre-selection for the seat of Robertson is tell Kevin Rudd that the new candidate likes to be known as Deb O’Neill, not Debbie as he called her yesterday.
The second thing is they need to stick a big picture of Neal on the wall of the state secretary’s office as a reminder that the members of the party are much better at choosing candidates than they are.
It sounds pretty simple, but it’s a lesson that’s been long in the making, and one the Labor heavies in NSW are yet to fully grasp. And it’s not just important for voters and party members, as contrary to what you’d expect, being imposed on one’s constituency is no tea party for a candidate either.
The Member for the Illawarra-based seat of Cunningham, Sharon Bird, has lived to tell the tale. But in 2002 I was sitting in the back of a stuffy room at the Wollongong Iron Workers Club as the then-HQ-imposed ALP candidate was raked over hot coals backwards by the union movement.
Bird had been what they called in those days “N40d” in by head office as the candidate in a by-election after the retirement of the Speaker of the House of Representatives Stephen Martin.
It wasn’t pretty. One woman even cut up her ALP membership card, and Bird spent much of the meeting looking and sounding like she was about to cry.
She lost the seat for the ALP for the first time in its history in that by-election to the Greens Michael Organ. Organ was a most unspectacular MP, who Bird then knocked off in the general election in 2004, and thus Cunningham was recovered.
Lesson learned? No.
Belinda Neal was dropped in the laps of the people of Robertson in a sweeping move by ALP head office at the 2007 Labor conference that mostly relied on the dazzle provided by the then-new candidate for Bennelong, Maxine McKew.
Deb O’Neill didn’t get the chance to run for pre-selection in her home seat that year. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The Liberals might have been calling for the disendorsement of the controversy magnet Neal, but there’s no getting away from the fact their candidate Darren Jameison has a much tougher fight on his hands now.
Not only is Deb O’Neill well-liked and well-spoken, she now has 98 of a possible 169 rank and file ALP votes safely tucked in her back pocket, something Neal never had to catch her when she fell.
Robertson, the most marginal seat in the country, will now be a must-watch during the campaign.
Lesson learned? Not quite.
The NSW ALP state secretary Matt Thistlethwaite was politically assassinated by the union movement last month. To console himself he’s been given a Senate spot.
The powers that be obviously deemed him incapable of running the party, but perfectly up for the job of representing the people of NSW in the Upper House.
The more things change ...
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