Thursday, May 04, 2006

Jeff – the backdown

Jeff Kennett has enjoyed his 24 hours of attention, and now he is about to announce he will NOT be standing for the State Liberal leadership.

A Kennett comeback was always the longest of longshots, as we pointed out when we broke the story ten weeks ago for New Matilda.

And a few minutes ago, Kennett's protégé Ted Baillieu announced he was standing for the leadership – snuffing out any chance Jeff had of running.

This afternoon, Jeff will release a statement announcing he will not run for the job.

This despite John Howard going on radio this morning lauding Jeff as the best man for the job: "If he is available, he is overwhelmingly the best person to do it."

It is clear that Jeff has realised, after talking to his wife Felicity, that the obstacles facing a Kennett comeback were insurmountable. As we surmised back then, those barriers were (not exclusively):

*Felicity, has told him she’d leave him if he got into politics again;

*He's just taken over as President of the Hawthorn Football Club (in Melbourne, where football is bigger than politics, this is a high profile job);

*Significant elements of the Liberal Party despise him after his autocratic leadership resulted in the 1999 election loss. They would fight his reinstatement;

*He is recovering from a recent hip replacement and was attacked in a bar owned by his son earlier this month.

The washup? Ted Baillieu emerges as the front-runner for the right to lead the State Liberals to a crushing election loss on 25 November. Albeit faintly damned as only the second-best candidate by the words of the PM this morning.

Jeff's 24-hour splash has unleashed a crowd of demons that echo from his tenure as Premier. The Kennett legacy is still a controversial one. The ghosts have not yet been laid to rest.

And for Jeff Kennett? There's talk of a Federal tilt. And you would have to consider it as very remote a possibility - given the PM's cheeky comments this morning talking up Jeff.

But that was always about making Peter Costello uncomfortable, wasn't it!


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