The big les­son from last week’s Lib­eral Party pre­s­e­lec­tion for the seat of Went­worth is that the rankand-file membership will not be used as pawns in fac­tional plays or for a de facto quota for women can­di­dates. The other les­son for us all is that to be a pre­s­e­lec­tor in the Lib­eral Party, you need enor­mous amounts of pa­tience and per­se­ver­ance. At the meet­ing on Thurs­day night, if you were keen enough to stay un­til the re­sult of the fi­nal bal­lot, you would have sat through a full six hours of speeches and a se­ries of bal­lots.

Twenty min­utes is al­lowed for each can­di­date to speak and an­swer ques­tions. When you have eight can­di­dates, al­low­ing for in­tro­duc­tions and thank-yous, three hours have passed that you can never get back. Then can­di­dates are elim­i­nated mostly one by one over a num­ber of bal­lots.

Each voter’s name is called out, a bal­lot pa­per is is­sued, and then it’s off to the vot­ing booths at the back of the room.

This is a process de­signed to test the loy­alty of the faith­ful or ex­haust them into sub­mis­sion.

There are al­ways a few can­di­dates who shouldn’t have both­ered. Maybe they are try­ing to show their party that they wish great­ness to be be­stowed upon them in the fu­ture. With a panel of roughly 200, Max­ine Szramka scored four votes, Brigham Car­ring­ton six and Michael Fene­ley 11.

Af­ter those ex­its, the next elimination came as a big sur­prise to Scott Mor­ri­son, fac­tional supremo Michael Pho­tios and the book­ies who read the wrong pa­pers.

The favourite was a woman named Kather­ine O’Re­gan. She had heavy­weight sup­port form above and be­yond Went­worth but not from within it. The good peo­ple of some of the ritzi­est sub­urbs in the coun­try re­fused to be told who to vote for. The chief of the Prime Min­is­ter’s elec­torate con­fer­ence, Scott Briggs, was on the phone supporting O’Re­gan.

Cab­i­net min­is­ter Paul Fletcher did the same. The word was out that Mor­ri­son wanted O’Re­gan.

When the crunch came, she re­ceived a mis­er­able 19 votes. She could not even man­age 10 per cent of the to­tal. The rank and file told their tit­u­lar lead­ers ex­actly where they could shove it.

Per­haps those lead­ers were not aware that any­thing that re­sem­bles the flip­side of af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion (such as supporting a woman who is a weak can­di­date over bet­ter cre­den­tialed men) will be re­jected by the busi­ness peo­ple and pro­fes­sion­als who live in sub­urbs like Bellevue Hill, Point Piper, Dar­ling Point and Dou­ble Bay.

Peter King, the mem­ber van­quished by Mal­colm Turn­bull, put up a good show with 38 votes in the first vote and hung on un­til the sec­ond-last bal­lot. When he fi­nally ex­ited, it was left to the sur­prise packet Richard Shield and the for­mer Aus­tralian am­bas­sador to Is­rael, Dave Sharma.

Shields was gen­er­ally re­garded as best at the speeches and Q&A but he car­ried bag­gage. He had moved from the Right to the Left so nei­ther side trusted him.

On the other hand, Sharma had a stel­lar CV and had not been a party mem­ber for a long pe­riod, so he had no en­e­mies.

His real bat­tle is to come. Ker­ryn Phelps, with La­bor pref­er­ences, and pre­sum­ably those of the Greens, will be very hard to de­feat.

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