Democrats MP in fight with party…wait, Democrats?

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I know, I know. I’d forgotten there was any Democrats MPs left too, but David Winderlich is the sole remaining Democrat MP, holding a seat in South Australia’s Legislative Council after taking over from Sandra Kanck last November.

The party appears to be effectively dead, with a small rump of activists keeping the party going. In a desperate move, Winderlich has threatened the party that he will resign if they don’t recruit 100 members by the end of November.

“The Democrats have a proud history. Our achievements include banning tobacco print advertising, introducing World Heritage legislation, calling for a national takeover of the Murray back in 2001, and securing the independence of the ABC.

“We have always supported country SA by fighting against Government cuts to health and education services, and by opposing the centralisation of Government jobs in the city.

“But the Democrats’ membership, resources and morale have been declining for years.

“1,000 new members will secure the future of the party and ensure that South Australia has a genuine third choice.

“This bold strategy is the only way to revive the Democrats – and no one will be recruiting harder than me.

“But if the party does not embrace this challenge, or if the community does not respond, it will prove that the Democrats’ time has passed and I and others will have to look for a new way to keep Democrat values alive.

It seems a pretty unlikely strategy to work. Although to be fair, I don’t know what else you’d do in his position. If he’s a Democrat or an Independent, it doesn’t make much difference. He doesn’t have any sort of support from a real party, and has practically no chance of winning election in 2010. Might as well go for it.

What seems even stranger is the response from the party’s President, who has gone for the angle of savaging the sole shred of relevance the party still has.

The Australian Democrats were notified this morning of David Winderlich’s challenge – recruit 1,000 members or he will go independent.

National President Julia Melland rejected this ultimatum as a massive sign of disloyalty to the party, and demanded Mr Winderlich resign his seat in parliament immediately.

“We owe David Winderlich nothing. We are not going to rush our rebuilding plans just because he clearly doesn’t believe in the party.

“He would not be in parliament if it weren’t for the Australian Democrats allowing him that privilege, and as he does not respect those who have given him that privilege, he should resign his seat in parliament immediately.”

The Democrats seem to be attempting a “rebuilding” plan:

Ms Melland said the party’s extensive rebuilding efforts are going well, and are currently focused on fixing the underlying structural problems that resulted in the party’s decline.

“Previously the party membership was largely focused on support for an individual Senators and other parliamentarians, and the functions of the party largely dependent on their staff. As part of our rebuild plans we have been expressly working towards an organisational structure that is not dependent on the cult of personality.

“If we were to comply with Mr Winderlich’s ultimatum then we would only have more people who are members because they support him – rather than supporting the ideals of the party. This is not healthy for our long term prospects, and demonstrates the political naiveté of Mr Winderlich.”

“The Australian Democrats are far from dead. We have a very good strategic plan for rebuilding the party, guided by professional consultants, that is making good headway on what is a very tough road to resurgence. This latest act of disloyalty by Mr Winderlich is unfortunate, but will not disrupt our rebuilding plans.” Ms Melland concluded.

I think it’s safe to say this won’t have any success. There’s always a possibility for small political parties to grow into real forces as the Democrats, the DLP and the Greens have done in the past. But once you fall out of the sky, it’s impossible to rise again. I tend to think this is primarily because any serious political party has so much political baggage that it would not be able to rise from nothing. Small political parties are able to rise by people not having a lot of grudges against them. The Democrats are dead.

This wouldn’t be so funny if it was serious.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. The Greens have all but filled the niche The Democrats once filled. All that I am curious about is who will be the next minor party to gain some popular traction?

  2. As a proud South Australian, I can ‘Almost’ officially proclaim that the Australian Democrats are DEAD! Thankyou Meg Lees, my least favourite former politician of alltime! Thank God for the Greens!

  3. You can almost feel the bitterness in Julia Melland’s response. What a shame. They could’ve used this as a moment to grab media attention and launch a badly needed recruitment campaign.

    Off the top of my head, here are 2 options:

    1 (if they care about their only elected representative)

    The Australian Democrats have always been a party that stood for independence, integrity and common sense. We believe that’s as important now as it’s ever been.

    Over the years, hundreds of thousands of Australians have turned to the Dems to keep the bastards honest – but we’re under threat. We need to sign up 1000 members by November, or we will lose our only elected representative.

    This is a crucial moment for Australians who care about democracy. Can you sign up today for just $15, and keep the Aussie Dems going?

    2 (if they really do hate Winderlich)

    It’s a shame to see David leave the Australian Democrats – we wish him well.

    Tens of thousands of South Australian have turned to the Australian Democrats as a party of integrity and common sense, and are confident of continuing that tradition at the next election.

    The next Democrat candidate will build on our record of protecting the Murray River, making South Australian’s tax dollar go further, and keeping the bastards honest.

    ….. in any case, how they passed up the ‘Independence not Independents’ pun is beyond me.

  4. What a bunch of idiots. Winderlich is their last and only hope, and they’re doing this? This sort of rubbish is why I stopped voting for them. Well, that and their non-existence last time I had to vote in an election. They’ve been deregistered in Tas and the ACT… not sure about WA, but I wouldn’t be surprised. If it wasn’t for eight year upper house terms (way too long), they’d’ve been very neatly killed off in SA in 2006. It’s a shame, they’ll be missed as the third party, but it’s over.

  5. I’ll try a more sanitised version of the comment I posted last night and had to ask Ben to remove (sorry mate, thanks heaps).

    This is just typical Democrats, as was seen with the controversies surrounding Sandra Kanck a couple of years ago. Someone aptly described the Dems once as ‘the party that ate itself’, and they have the strategic aptitude of a doorknob.

    The Dems actually have a term for these kinds of things, since they are so common – it’s called a FUBB. Don Chipp wrote that it stood for ‘Foul Up Beyond Belief’, but as you can guess, that’s not the literal meaning.

    I don’t know how they are still legally registered in NSW, especially after the ordeal we went through to rustle up enough members to maintain registration when I was a member in 2004. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were still using the names of people like me to maintain registration – if their continued existence or not actually mattered I might care and check with the NSWEC, but who cares, I couldn’t be bothered.

  6. @Nick C

    I totally agree with what Nick has said and captures my sentiments. While never a member of the Democrats they’ve taken to airing their unmentionables in public giving all and sundry a wide open view into the internal black hole that seemingly is at its core. And the kind of “lashing” mentality from Winderlich is what saw the likes of Meg Lees rise to the top, defect and be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

  7. Thanks Simon. Yes, that’s typical of the religious-like faith that party loyalists can have in their party. I would’ve used much the same arguments five years ago, and it’s exactly the kind of frame of mind that one can get into which makes me so reluctant to ever join a political party again.

    She says the Dems have a progressive/social liberal ideology. True, this is how they are best classified, but the problem is that it is, if you like, descriptive, not proscriptive. They never self-identified as a social liberal party – they simply adopted a set of policies and principles, which, when analysed, led to them being categorised as social liberals. The Dems indeed essentially rejected the idea of having a coherent ideology, taking the idealised view that ideology was bad, and interfered with rational, evidence-based decision making.

    If the Dems had a coherent ideology, then you could ask any committed Democrat what their party’s general position was on a given issue, and that person should be able to give it to you off the top of their head, without having to refer to a specific policy document or recent statement by the relevant portfolio-holding Senator. When I was a member, this was not the case amongst most of my colleagues – I actually could do it though, which either proves that I memorised Dems policy very well, or there was an inherent but unacknowledged and poorly-understood ideological underpinning.

    As much as they wish to cite the party objectives as constituting an ideological base, they simply don’t. They don’t provide a coherent ideology. The Dems defined themselves from the outset as a ‘centre-line’ party, in the ‘middle’ between Labor and Liberal. This made some sense during the polarised climate of the 1970s, but defining themselves relative to other parties, rather than on an independent ideological base, could never work in the long term. As Labor moved to the right, the Dems inevitably had an identity crisis. The idea of the Dems being in the ‘middle’ was the very basis of their identity – what is the first thought that enters your mind when you think of the Democrats? (or, well, ten years ago perhaps, not today) I’ll bet it’s something to do with being in the ‘middle’ – or, actually, I’m really not sure what it would’ve been for most people, perhaps the ‘keeping the bastards honest’ theme for those older than me who remember Chipp? At any rate, it is exactly the opposite of the situation for the Greens – think of the Greens and most people’s first thought is inevitably something about the environment, hence the unavoidable perception that the Greens are a ‘single issue party’, just as Labor can never divorce themselves in people’s minds from the union movement, but for the Dems there is no such clear identity in people’s minds. ‘Keeping the bastards honest’ means so many different things to different people that it is meaningless as the basis for a coherent identity (Indeed, in his 2004 book Chipp defined it as mainly concerning the rights of MPs to conscience votes, which is very different from what most people think it referred to).

    I agree with her that in theory there is a ‘natural base’ for a social liberal party in this country, but what you guys said is right, it’s not the Democrats base, and never really was (perhaps because they weren’t a self-identified social liberal party?). I don’t understand how they are going to connect with this ‘base’ now. I also think the broader progressive cause is suffering because of the lack of such a party that actually effectively taps into this constituency, as I don’t believe the Greens can capture all of the votes that a social liberal potentially can. I will add that as a reasonably left-leaning social liberal I do nowadays believe that we social liberals and Greens are natural allies, as we basically share the same values which set us apart from the old parties, and consequently, that any future social liberal force, which I think should more practically be comprised of independents than any new party, should treat the Greens as allies and not try to compete directly with them for the same votes (as some newer parties have tried, rather unsuccessfully I might add). The Dems and Greens weren’t able to see each other as allies for various reasons, largely historical, and it would’ve made little difference to the present-day situation anyway.

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