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.