The West

One year ago to the day, Labor's most powerful faction boss, Dave Kelly, said the party had agreed Eric Ripper needed more time as leader.

If 365 days is considered enough time, then Mr Ripper's days should be numbered.

All that time has achieved for the Opposition Leader is to compound a belief that he is likeable but lacking.

He has done an admirable job since Labor lost the 2008 election in ensuring the parliamentary party did not descend into a rabble, as is often the case after a long time in government.

In the main, the party has remained unified.

But even he admitted this week that under his leadership the party has been unable to cut through.

Despite massive rises in power prices and the destruction of people's homes thanks to a State Government-bungled burn-off, the Labor Party's narrative has gone nowhere.

Mr Ripper also lamented the lack of Labor policies being floated to a public looking for reasons to support the party.

Confessions like that with the next State election looming won't ease the nerves of electorally challenged backbenchers and might explain why two MPs broke ranks again this week to say Mr Ripper had to go.

Albany's Peter Watson and Forrestfield's Andrew Waddell hold no power within the party, but when two insiders publicly declare their leader unsellable to the voters they can't be ignored.

It is equally hard to ignore - although plenty of senior party people would like to - comments by former Labor government minister Alannah MacTiernan, who yesterday likened the party to a cult whose followers knew they were doomed but kept drinking the Kool-Aid.

Her colourful analogy about the current leadership crossroads was matched by Upper House MP and Ripper backer Jon Ford when he said changing leaders now would be like throwing a hand grenade into a bowl of mashed potato.

Mr Ripper likes to argue that winning over the public should not simply be about putting a new head on television.

But when the current head talks for three years and no one listens, he should be big enough to accept that trying a new one is not such a silly idea.

Depending on the level of factional support for him, former minister and proved parliamentary performer Mark McGowan is one option.

The Rockingham MP rattles the Barnett Government, has a young family and lives in the mortgage belt where cost of living issues are starting to bite.

He argued in an opinion piece on Monday that Mr Barnett should be doing more to help the battlers cope.

Juxtapose that view with Premier Colin Barnett's belief that people should do without their Foxtel and air-conditioners before whining about electricity prices and there's a clear and marketable point of difference.

Mr McGowan, who has been in Parliament since 1996, also ticks another vital box. He presents and performs well in front of the cameras.

Another name - put forward by former Labor premier Peter Dowding - is Peter Tinley. He's much more of an unknown, having only come to Parliament in 2009 after a by-election was held for Alan Carpenter's old seat of Willagee, but a glance at Wikipedia leaves the reader in no doubt that the former Special Air Service Regiment major knows a thing or two about leadership.

In his maiden speech to Parliament, he mentioned the word leadership more than 30 times.

"Simply put, authentic leaders do not shy away from the truth of a matter, and have the courage to align the spirit of their actions with the spirit of their words," he said. "Authentic leadership provides intellectual transparency for those we wish to influence, change and have follow us."

Highly decorated and accomplished in the theatre of war, Mr Tinley is green politically and that will scare many away from supporting him for the leadership so soon. While the leadership issue continues to snap at Mr Ripper's heels, the union-based factional power structure of the Labor Party is also getting attention again.

One militant union in WA, the Maritime Union of Australia, has decided it wants to become a player in the political game by signing up about 700 of its members to the Labor Party.

It wants a stronger presence in the Left faction alongside the dominant Metal Workers Union and United Voice, which Mr Kelly controls.

"Go and have a look at how many financial members there are and then have a look at how many members we're getting into the ALP," MUA State secretary Chris Cain said. "I'd be very surprised if we haven't got 2000 members in by the end of the year. We believe that we're going to be one of the players in the ALP."

He denied the recruitment drive was born out of frustration with the current balance of power in the party, but it was clear he wanted his union to be noticed.

"The strategy we'll be using going forward may change things very dramatically," he said.

On the question of whether Mr Ripper should continue to lead the party, Mr Cain's words weren't so ominous.

"I'm hearing all kinds of things, but it's a bit early to say," he said. "I'd need to analyse it a bit more rather than blab off."

Mr Ripper, who knows a year is a long time in politics, appears determined to stand his ground until the powerbrokers tap him on the shoulder or comes to realise that he could do more harm than good to the party come March next year.

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