24 September 2007

When all other alternatives are exhausted

Now that Liberals have stopped taking Jason Koutsoukis to lunch in order to hand-feed him tidbits of blah, he's had to do some work. First the Gillard thing, now this.

The clearest illustration that Koutsoukis has missed the point of his own article is his dismissive approach to the one Democrat Senator with half a chance, Andrew Bartlett. Bartlett's leadership of the party might not have survived the incident described, but his work on committees and in brokering sensible outcomes in legislation certainly has - or should.

The main problem for the Democrats is, like the Liberals, they haven't planned for their future. The sign of a party in decay is not that Lees and Stott Despoja went at each other, that sort of thing happens all the time in politics. The sign of decay is that membership dried up and the pool of new candidates has stagnated and drained away. Andrew Murray claims that their vote went up in 2001 - but there were no new Senators elected then, and had there been things may have been different now.

A party is healthy when it attracts capable candidates willing to run for office, and the Democrats are not a healthy party. The Liberals might be eating their future but all the Democrats can do is starve.

Lyn Allison is a worthy contributor to Senate deliberations, but she's not a leader and nor is she a winning candidate for the Senate in Victoria. In a healthy party, she'd have been challenged by a number of wannabes and either lifted her game or succumbed. Now, all she's going to do is light all Democrats the way to dusty political death.

The Democrats have no choice but to throw everything they have behind Andrew Bartlett. With the likelihood that neither Labor nor the Coalition will have a majority in the Senate, someone needs to show what can be done through patient parliamentary busywork. Who else is going to do it? What choice do they have? Why have they worked themselves into a position where this, or extinction, really is their only choice?

The sensible middle ground of politics has been occupied by Kevin Rudd, who looks exactly like the sort of person the Democrats would have put up as a candidate ten years ago. In the next term of government people are going to vote Labor in the hope of securing that ground. The Liberals have abandoned it and their moderates are too weak to slip the leash and seize it for themselves. In the term after next, people will realise that the sensible middle has gone missing - what then? Will there even be an Australian Democrats organisation by then, or will the image of the party be dominated by ridiculous old hippies like this?

The image of the Fielding First Senator tooling around calls to mind that Christmas carol parody of "One on a scooter, blowing his hooter/Smoking a rubber cigar". Stop laughing, that guy is in a far stronger political position than the Democrats.

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