Guy’s tough call calms the faithful, leaves Smith with nowhere to run

Guy’s tough call calms the faithful, leaves Smith with nowhere to run

11/02/2021

When Matthew Guy returned to the leadership of the Victorian Liberal Party in September, he knew he had been given a rare opportunity after he led the Coalition to a spectacular loss in 2018.

This will be his final chance. Should the Coalition lose the election next November, Guy will probably walk away from politics. Unless the party puts on a good show in defeat, there will be no third bite at the cherry.

When Matthew Guy retook the Liberal Party leadership in September, Tim Smith was right behind him. Credit:Justin McManus

Many of Guy's strongest supporters insisted his leadership would need to reflect this new reality, but secretly they feared his desire to be liked would get in the way.

They were concerned that during his political resurrection, he promised too much to too many people, especially political allies such as Tim Smith who aided his return.

On Tuesday, Guy allayed fellow Liberals’ concerns by showing himself unwilling to lose any political skin for a crisis he didn’t cause. What came as a welcome surprise to supporters shocked the member for Kew, who had naively assumed their friendship and factional allegiance would protect him.

To voters, Guy's decision may seem like common sense. But in politics, every action has consequences.

Tim Smith is hoping that he can rebuild his political career.Credit:Joe Armao

Cutting Smith loose may be the virtuous path but it comes with political risks. By doing so, Guy is not only divorcing a friend but potentially starting a political war with federal colleagues who are privately urging Smith to stay.

Smith may be polarising but he has been more effective at generating headlines than the majority of his colleagues during the pandemic. In that sense, he is an asset to the talent-deprived Coalition.

But his disastrous decision to drive home drunk on Saturday night has made him a liability Guy can't afford.

When Smith hit the phones shopping for support on Tuesday, colleagues say he seemed genuinely shocked when told – both gently and forcefully – that his services were no longer required.

“We have told him, these things aren’t survivable, that there is no other option,” one of his colleagues said. “But he sees Matthew as betraying him.”

Smith is a political animal and reportedly bounced between a reluctant acceptance that his time was up, and treating the crisis for survival as just another factional game.

Smith's cause is being assisted by his friends in Canberra who wear no political consequences if he stays put but benefit from having an ally on Spring Street.

By encouraging him to fight, they are doing Smith no favours. Instead, they are potentially setting him up for the embarrassment of being voted out of the parliamentary Liberal Party or having his preselection torn up by the party’s administrative committee.

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