The usually highly regarded federal director of the Liberal party Brian Loughnane has ousted his Malcolm Turnbull aligned deputy James McGrath in a brutal coup described as â€œbreathtakingâ€ by shocked and worried party insiders today.
Mark Westfield â€“ an ex Turnbull staffer â€“ broke the news this morning to the shock and astonishment of Liberal marginal seat holders and candidates.
One worried Liberal talking to VEXNEWS said â€œWhat if Kevin Rudd calls the election within weeks, there wonâ€™t be a marginal seat campaign ready to do because the deputy director is in charge of that. This is a personally motivated exercise that is totally inappropriate months out from a federal elections. Itâ€™s self-indulgent and outrageous.â€
Loughnaneâ€™s supporters claim that at one stage Turnbull tried to axe both Loughnane and party President Alan Stockdale and they assert that McGrath was regarded by Loughnane as â€œuseless.â€
They explain the curious timing by reference to Loughnaneâ€™s methodical and cautious approach and that he would not have acted until certain he could get away with it.
Westfield told the yarn well but party insiders have told VEXNEWS that there are two issues lurking in the background.
One is that McGrath â€“ aside from being appointed at the insistence of then leader Malcolm Turnbull â€“ is very close with Loughnane foe and party director predecessor Lynton Crosby. In a post-Abbott setting, Loughnane apparently believed that McGrath could have been a rival, boosted by Crosby who still enjoys considerable sway in Liberal circles as a campaign strategist.
The other is that there have dark mutterings from the Liberal secretariat about their financial situation. Insiders say McGrath had been pushing for economies in keeping with the great difficulties both sides of politics are having with fundraising. Loughnane â€“ they explain â€“ has been reluctant to cut spending and there have been arguments around money.
Insiders tell VEXNEWS it is conceivable that Loughnane would have acted without Abbottâ€™s express authority and backing. His connection with Abbott is very close culturally, aside from the personal connection due to Loughnaneâ€™s marriage to Abbott COS Peta Credlin.
Westfield claims that one of the replacements of McGrath will be Julian Sheezel, who is claimed by his backers to have done a good job in South Australia, a view strongly disputed by those who say the Libs were out-campaigned in marginal seats by the canny SA Labor machine, turned into a superior fighting force years ago by their prodigal son campaign director David Feeney, now a Victorian Labor senator.
UPDATE: Liberal insiders tell VEXNEWS that at the heart of the disagreement between Loughnane and his slain deputy James McGrath was campaign finance. Traditionally, sufficient funds would be raised to meet “hard” campaign costs like campaign head-quarters, how-to-vote printing and the basic campaign infrastructure expenses. The TV buy – purchased on 60 day payment terms – would then be met by the millions of dollars in “public funding” from taxpayers that flow to political parties on a per vote basis.
Because fundraising has proved so difficult, Loughnane had decided to instead approach no fewer than three banks to borrow funds to meet the hard campaign costs against the future income they’d receive from public funding. McGrath was concerned that this approach would leave very little for the TV buy and potentially create a Tim Gartrell style financial blackhole.
Loughnane grew tired of the endless debates of this issue, garnered support from the leader and executed his combatant with extreme prejudice.
McGrath’s many backers made a point today of saying he was universally (other than Loughnane) regarded as a “disciplined, focused, creative, tough” campaign director who fielded very regular higher-paying offers from the corporate world but stayed with the party because he is a “true believer.”
Loughnane’s supporters this afternoon pointed to a press article that appeared shortly after McGrath’s appointment claiming that he “would run rings around” Loughnane.
“He’s had it coming,” they observed.