FORMER PM John Howard is being drawn into an internal Liberal Party row which is threatening Tony Abbott's election chances.
The internal row has already cost the party from $300,000 to $500,000 in legal fees and has delayed the selection of eight federal election candidates.
At issuer is a grassroots bid to win the right for local branches to select candidates rather than have them imposed by party headquarters.
Mr Howard is not directly involved but his long-standing support for the selection of candidates by plebiscite is being raised ahead of a showdown on the issue at a NSW Liberal annual general meeting next week.
He disappointed many of the grass-roots agitators when told news.com.au he would not take part in any campaign and would not speak in the debate at the November 17 AGM.
"All I'm doing is repeating my views. I am not going to lobby anybody, I'm not speaking at the meeting,'' he said.
But he added, "My views are well known and I don't mind them being well known.''
The scrap within the NSW Liberal branch has slowed preparations for the federal election expected late next year and has infuriated MPs worried about those preparations.
"Personally I am angry that we have allowed ourselves to get to a point where hundreds of thousands in campaign money has been wasted in litigation,'' Phillip Ruddock, the longest serving federal MP in Parliament, told news.com.au.
The reformers have the uphill task of needing to win at least 60 per cent of the votes at the November 17 meeting if they are to get the reform through, and the Howard endorsement could be critical.
They are pointing to Mr Howard's views and hoping his stature and standing within the party as a forer leader will help them prevail.
The former Prime Minister wrote about the plebiscite idea in his book "Lazarus Rising'' and argued it could spread party democracy and be ``an antidote to factions'', or what Mr Howard called "preferment co-operatives''.
"Years ago when political parties had larger memberships and they would claim to be mass movements, it was perhaps logical to have a limited number of people who actually chose the candidate,'' he told news.com.au.
``"But these days when membership is smaller, it makes far more sense to say to somebody who joins a political party...one of the privileges is after a qualifying period they should have a vote on who the candidate would be.''
Mr Howard said the Liberals should "spread the decision making process as widely as possible" and said other state branches, such as Victoria, had used plebiscites to select winning, young candidates.
"It is a fact, and I don't disguise it, that I support plebiscites. I said so in my book.'' he said.
"A couple of other (party) divisions have benefited from a plebiscite system.
"I think the NSW division should at some stage adopt it. As to exactly when, I don't know. But I'm not campaigning or lobbying or involving myself (in the vote).''
Read more on the Herald Sun.