BY ALL appearances — and in politics they are almost everything — Mark McGowan is a changed man.
The politician once nicknamed “sneakers” because he was supposedly such a brown-noser that’s all you could see, seems to have taken on the unmistakeable persona required of a credible leader.
In the wash-up of Geoff Gallop’s election as Premier in 2001 when he missed out on a ministry by a handful of votes, appearances suggested he was a jaded and disappointed soul with a king-sized chip on his shoulder.
He moped around parliament, complained in private about the power of the factions in the Labor party and looked on some of Mr Gallop’s ministers as second-rate duds, all with some justification.
In 2008 he played a significant role in defeat of the then Labor government when he fronted the media to call popular Morley MP John D'Orazio "the worst ethnic branch stacker in the history of Labor in WA".
Mr D'Orazio ran as an independent, preferenced the Liberal party and cost Labor the one seat it needed to govern.
But that was a somewhat different Mark McGowan to the one now leading Labor in Western Australia.
Sometime between then and now, possibly over this year’s Christmas break, he’s taken an injection of steel to the spine, but will need to take a few more if he’s to keep his job.
Speaking in the wake of January's devastating Waroona/Yarloop bushfires, he looked confident and sounded across his brief.
When he took the leadership in 2012, he was only rated by factional insiders as an interim measure, an expendable factional outsider to be replaced when he made a mess of things or got too close to winning.
That still may be the case, and it seems the factions will be trying it on sooner or later, but as one factional war-lord said at the time he took the leadership: “Well, at least he actually wants to win”.
But Old McGowan sometimes shows his face.
On Tuesday he was pressed by 6PR's Gary Adshead about rumours factional bosses were plotting his demise.
"I don't think so. I'm of the view I have the overwhelming support of my colleagues and the vast majority of party members," he said.
His response should’ve been, “I’d like to see them try”.
Mr McGowan cannot afford the slightest hint he is prepared to go meekly to the slaughter.
If the moves being made against him eventuate in a challenge, he should threaten to tear the place down.
If he did this, the factions wouldn’t dare touch him.
If we accept Alannah MacTiernan’s assurance she would only return to state politics to cure a bad case of relevance deprivation disorder and would not challenge Mr McGowan, that leaves Stephen Smith.
But the difficulty with a transition to Mr Smith, who is not a member of state parliament and looks relaxed and comfortable outside of politics, is close to insurmountable.
Other hopefuls are no more than smoky chances; Peter Tinley and Ben Wyatt might fancy themselves, but are miles off the job; they are yet to prove themselves as ministers let alone leaders.
If Mark McGowan stays firm, he will get his chance.
And that chance, no matter how the faction bosses like it, is the best Labor has of winning.