Thursday, October 14, 2004

Done like a Democrat

It's time to apply the blow torch to the Democrats, who have spectacularly and disappointingly fulfilled the low expectations that most in the commentariat had prior to the election.

A quick analysis of the vote on Saturday reveals a couple of interesting things:
- The 2% Senate premuim that the Democrats used to enjoy over their House of Reps vote has disappeared, although it was on the way out during the 2001 campaign.
- The so-called Democrats heartland in South Australia provided no respite from the drubbing the party received. Anyone who suggests the Dems might still win a seat in South Australia should be issued with a calculator and a ball-point pen, pronto.
- The prediction that the Democrats would fail to achieve 4% in any seat in the country was proven to be too optimistic - the party failed to hit the 3% mark anywhere.

This last point has important financial implications for the party. By not hitting 4% anywhere, it has missed all public funding. Given that the party spent a significant amount on the campaign (A4 glossy HtVs, cinema ads, slick website) and corporate donations had all but vanished since 2002, the party would now find itself in a significant financial hole. Given the doom and gloom surrounding the party, it is difficult to see how it could rescue itself from the situation.

Where to from here? Firstly, Bartlett has to go. Much as he is a nice bloke with his heart firmly in the right place, Bartlett has shown himself to be incapable as a leader. He lacks the energy and charisma necessary for a minor party to succeed (note the well worn arguments about the Democrats, One Nation and now the Greens all thriving under the leadership of publicity-hungry, ambitious leaders) and has failed to revitalise a tired party. The Ferris incident from 2003 was bad but not fatal, however the electoral result is.

After each Federal election, the Democrats leadership is automatically spilt. Given that there will only be four contenders, the future leadership ticket writes itself. The four remaining Dems will be Senators Allison, Murray, Stott Despoja and Bartlett. Bartlett will not renominate. Murray is still deeply unpoular amongst the membership and wouldn't dare to. Stott Despoja is not going to make the same mistake twice. Which leaves Senator Allison to lead the party to the promised land of electoral nirvana. Perhaps Natasha might put her hand up for deputy, if the right amount of begging comes her way. Given the way she was treated last time, she would be well within her rights to refuse.

And the future of the party? I struggle to see how it will continue to exist beyond the end of 2005. In the post-mortem (which really is the operative phrase) from this campaign, the party will realise that it is beyond saving. It will take a brave but necessary decision by the party's National Executive to officially dissolve the party, a move which would require the support of the membership. Whilst political reasons form part of the decision, the other is the financial necessity of winding up an organisation that is in dire straits. Once this becomes a reality, the four remaining Senators will sit on the cross-benches until their term expires in 2008. It is unlikely any of them will recontest their seats.

This post requires a bit of a personal context. I spent seven years in the party, growing up inside it and learning about politics and life from people who had hearts of gold. Twice I was a candidate for the party, publicly representing the party. In 2003 I left it, because I'd moved to a different state-of-mind and could no longer honestly call myself a big-D Democrat. It hurts to write of its downfall, but it hurts also to see the oblivious optimism which some Democrats are operating with. It reminds me of the Monty Python scene in the Holy Grail - after having both his arms sliced off by the sword of an obviously stronger opponent, the Black Knight wants to keep going, with the immortal line "It's just a flesh wound."

UPDATE, 14/10 4:00pm: A few quick updates based on some stuff that's come my way off-blog. It looks like the Democrats did in fact break 4%, in the Senate in the NT, where they scored 4.45% (which includes the not insignificant NT donkey vote). So I might instead change my claim to a John Howardesque "In not state in Australia did the Democrats manage to get to 4%."

The other thing that has come my way is the suggestion that the Democrats are still in the running for an SA Senate seat based on some snappy preference deals. I've spent some time to do some more calculations (yes, the calculator and ball-point pen) and I stand by what I said three days ago and earlier in this post. SA will split 3-3 between the ALP and Liberals. For the Democrats to win the sixth Senate seat, they need to be second last or better out of: fourth Liberal, third ALP, first Family First, first Green and first Democrat. If they can get into second last or better, they will be able to benefit from their preference deals and get over the line. When only those five are standing, however, here are the figures I come up with (based on the AEC website figures at 3:45pm):

ALP (3): 0.6048 quota
Greens (1): 0.4719 quota
Lib (4): 0.3420 quota
Family First (1): 0.2888 quota
Democrats (1): 0.2689 quota

Can the Dems bridge the gap to beat Family First? Doubtful.

6 comments:

Phu-Linh Tran said...

I agree with many of your points, as sad as the reality is that the Democrats may not exist in a few short years.The Democrats were always kind of the Aunty Flo of the Senate keeping the Big Billy Liberal brother from bashing the shit out of Little Johnny Labor and the other cousins. I think what will happen is that the party may reform under a different name, although hopefully not to the same demise ala the situation with Meg Lees and her Progressive Alliance cronies. If it is to be successful once more, the party needs to reform the party machinery which means weeding out the egos and dissolving dissent among the executive and the leadership. It also means more publicity of policy work and to be a stronger recognisable force in the community. I truly hope that the Democrats survive many more elections to come, because without them, we will have a very new definition of unfairness in the Senate.

Anonymous said...

Ari,

Agree - can't see much happening now.

There was an optimist in me that thought the outcome of this election was going to be the Greens holding the balance of power in the Senate - that then, in the course of the elctoral cycle, they'd either be called on to do a deal or block something - in other words, become something other than a protest group sniping from the political sidelines - and that this might hamper their electoral appeal enough for the dems to vote to come back a bit.

But its not falling out that way. The Senate is looking like it is going to be irrelvant through to the next election. In that kind of political environment, I can't see how the voices of the remaining four hardworking Senators will make themselves heard.

This should not have happened.

Tk.

urban creature said...

I don't know if I've already mentioned this on here, but I have raised the possibility of a Greens-Democrat merger.

Both parties after June 30 2005 will (possibly) have 4 Senators each. To have party status in the Senate you require 5 members. This is something the Greens have never had before and the prospect of having extra staff and some limited ability to be on committees, etc should be dutifully considered (even if the Greens have in the past been notoriously absent in committees - even when invited).

Of course this would be up to the individual Senators as to where they go - remain in the merged party, to the APA or become an independent. The prospect of a merger will increase the likelihood of at least 2 senators remaining in the party, whereas if the party dissolved, the likelihood of them joining the Greens is diminished. Andrew Murray is the most likely to become an independent or join the APA.

This might make political sense but convincing the individual members of both parties may take some doing - particularly those on the socialist left of the Greens and the economic right of the Dems. On the other hand, those on the economic right may as well join Meg's party.

The other thing to remember is that a strong, viable third party would be better under the circumstances in the Senate from July 1 2005, rather than a fractured lot with conflicting messages. Not a lot of attention will be given to the Senate by the media either once the Libs take control (presuming they get a majority in their own right and won't have to rely on FF).

I look forward to your thoughts on this Ari.

Polly said...

I don't think a Greens-Democrat merger would work, or be
appropriate. Although some of the policy platforms are
similar, the party cultures and structures are very
different in nature, and it would have potential
to drag both groups down (yes I know the dems are
already down ;/).

I doubt that the Greens would want to merge with the
Democrats - they didn't in the early 90s when the Democrats
were a lot stronger, so I don't see what the Greens would
gain by doing it now (except for some senators they have
demonstrated over time that they don't like).

Any political party needs to attract members and supporters
who are pro their organisation, rather than simply against
all the other alternatives.

Anonymous said...

I fear Tk may have nailed it in one... his hoped for shared balance was exactly my expectation. Or should I say, I share his view that this was the only way they were going to come undone so soon.

Many have said the Greens will have there GST, but sadly it won't be this term. If and when it does come, I rather thought it'd have been Telstra, but it seems that'll be old news before they get the chance to actually make a decision.

Disagree on the leadership... frankly I can't see any of the remaining crop doing a better job. Your analysis is right, Ari, but Allison will be any more of a media darling? (God, if you're reading this Lyn, I do love your work though! :) Pragmatism aside, if that's all the Australian people look for in a minor party leader, let them eat Browncake!

Bartlett has been an excellent leader, evidenced if nothing else by the unity the team have sowed since the roubles. He is far and away the most experienced party man, even of the last 7 or even the ones they replaced in my opinion. If indeed the next phase is the end is there anyone you'd rather follow as you "go over the top" for the last time? I can't think of anyone.

Pete B

Polly said...

Just an update on how John McLaren is going in SA -
he may just fall short, but it's closer than you might think by looking at the figures. It will come down
to below the line votes.

Both John and FF are seeing their percentage drop in postal votes, but FF is dropping off more quickly, which narrows the gap between them, as the Liberals seem to be getting by far the most postal votes. However, the Veterans party is also getting a higher percentage of postal votes than what they've been getting on polling day. As the Veterans are going to the Democrats, this will boost their vote, when FF will be experiencing a slow drop in their votes.

If the Dems finish ahead of family first, then they get their preferences, and end up in a position where they can pick up Liberal preferences, and win the seat.

What this means is it's really way too close to call at this stage at of the count.