27/04/2004 - 22:00

Plotting in the war room

27/04/2004 - 22:00


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WESTERN Australia’s Liberal Party literally has a ‘backroom boy’ on staff to help topple Gallop-led Labor.

WESTERN Australia’s Liberal Party literally has a ‘backroom boy’ on staff to help topple Gallop-led Labor.

Mark Neeham, 29, who has just joined the campaign team of party State director Paul Everingham, has been located in an office at the very back of party headquarters at Menzies House on Murray Street.

Although Mr Neeham has never participated in an Australian Federal, State or local government election, he’s far from inexperienced when it comes to devising tactics and overseeing and implementing election strategies.

His CV includes involvement in several British national and local council elections as well as Scottish and European Union campaigns.

In fact, he performed so well for the British Conservatives in a tough southern England constituency that the party’s head office wasted no time in transferring him to Edinburgh, Scotland, to direct the Conservatives’ campaigning in that traditional Labour-dominated country where he made inroads.

That impressive record is certainly made more so when one realises that politics was Mr Neeham’s third choice of career.

His first and second were to be a pilot and a soldier.

That’s why he joined the British Army in 1991.

Had it not been for an accident, air trooper Mark Neeham may well have spent time at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst as a trainee officer and would now probably be a helicopter pilot. Instead, he reluctantly returned to civvy street.

But for that his life until his early 40s would in all likelihood have included several tours of duty in Germany, Northern Ireland, Belize, Canada – all traditional British military postings – and, as things have transpired, to Iraq.

After those options were closed off, Mr Neeham focused his attention on option three.

This meant writing to the Conservative Party’s head office at 32 Smith Square, Westminster, within earshot of Big Ben. He was promptly hired.

There he undertook the party’s standard two-year training course to become a Conservative Party agent, a position that’s largely unknown in Australia, where parties aren’t required to provide their MPs with local offices and party financed support and back-up.

Why did the son of a former English coal miner opt for the Conservatives, not ‘old’, or, pre-Tony Blair, Labor?

That’s an easy question for Mr Neeham to answer.

Like so many former and long-time British Labor loyalists, his family moved towards the Conservatives largely because of the so-called Thatcher revolution.

That revolution meant the breaking up of old, run-down socialist monopolies, the selling off of council housing to tenants, and brightening up culture in the Old Dart by offering greater diversity through competitive private enterprise.

In a phrase it meant dismantling many of the institutions that Clement Attlee Socialist-Fabianism had created during the late 1940s and succeeding Conservative Governments – from Churchill to Heath – were too scared to dismantle.

Just as the Thatcher revolution was about to move into full flight, Mr Neeham’s father entered the furniture retail sector.

When his father saw no prospect of further growth in that sector he converted his shop into a gymnasium and fitness centre, something earlier generations of miners and their children couldn’t have imagined ever seeing within their community.

In other words the Neehams underwent an experience that’s perhaps not uncommon in Australia, but before the late 1970s was still relatively rare in most parts of England, and continues to be so in Scotland where rustbelt socialist thinking survives.

As things transpired that background also played a part in Mr Neeham’s decision to emigrate to WA.

And it’s also why he believes Perth has been the right choice.

But between his two army years and reaching Perth last month was a decade of British politics – at the coal face, so to speak – for the Conservatives.

Mr Neeham points out that, unlike Australia, where party workers generally only fight two elections every three to four years, in Britain it’s permanent campaigning.

The reason is that British parties have national elections every five years and local council elections, which are generally contested annually.

On top of that, Scotland and Wales now have legislatures and Great Britain has MPs in the European Parliament.

“You get one election out of the way, have a couple of days rest, and then gear up for the next,” Mr Neeham said. “There’s no rest.”

Having had a decade of that no doubt explains why he seems so unflustered by the fact that he’s walked into two Australian election campaigns, a national one and one in WA.

State Scene was, naturally, discrete so never pressed Mr Neeham on how he planned operating in WA – his ‘order of battle’, to use a military term.

Those matters are his and the Liberal Party’s business.

But curiosity finally won out, so a Liberal candidate was contacted in the hope of gaining an insight into the Neeham modus operandi.

State Scene gave that informant an undertaking not to publicise anything that may be interpreted as sensitive or confidential from the Liberal standpoint.

Perhaps the best way of reporting on Mr Neeham’s activities so far is to say that in the best tradition of Britain’s long and proud military past he’s assessed his adversary well, established close contact with his troops, and is in the process of developing an excellent intelligence network.

Long-time State Scene readers will know that this column has never given Liberal leader Colin Barnett much chance of toppling Dr Gallop.

If proven incorrect Mr Barnett will be heavily indebted to the Everingham-Neeham team, or what would probably be shortened to simply, ‘the Ham factor’.




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