The Democrats are in disarray and Hillary reckons their best chance might be to install Aden Ridgeway into the top job whilst consigning Mystic Meg to the GST dust bin.

Over the past few weeks Hillary’s seen a trickle of Australian Democrat messages grow to a flood – with material even from Mystic Meg’s office and her senior staff ending up at [email protected] (hint, hint).

Most of the material has targeted the Mystic one herself and two of her staffers, One Nation preference beneficiary John Schumann and self confessed roll rorter John Cherry. Andrew “Street Fighting Man” Murray and the whole deal the Dems did over the GST are the other objects of ire.

Hillary has already been compelled to refer to the Cherry matter. Other roll rorters – be they Mike Kaiser or Mal Brough’s staff – have lost their jobs. But according to Moral Meg, entrusted with the sacred charge of keeping the bastards honest, Cherry is “a highly regarded and valued member” of the Democrat team.

What’s it mean? Clearly, there is something happening. The Birkenstock brigade are restless – and Crikey hasn’t been the only beneficiary.

Last week the Adelaide Advertiser got a cracker of a leak. Canberra correspondent Samantha Maiden, following up a story on the Dems poor polling Queensland and WA, received a copy of this e-mail from the failed folkie: “The Advertiser is ringing everyone asking about One Nation, WA and Queensland best refer people to speak to Professor Cherry or [Democrat national] campaign director [Jim] Downey.”

When the matter was raised with the tunesmith treehugger, the Advertiser says he “angrily denied the e-mail represented an attempt to silence Senators. ‘It’s not a gag order, the trick is to make sure we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet’.”

So what’s happening to the Democrats? We are clearly tweaking a raw nerve. John Schumann has felt compelled to write to us and, in a first from a party leader, Mystic Meg has loquaciously let loose at Crikey, saying “I’ve certainly heard of that particular website, I know that they print as much as what they think is as much scandal derogatory material as possible.”

It’s an irony – at the GST deal, the Democrats fulfilled the role Don Chipp originally saw them playing as a centre force between the extremes of the Coalition and Labor for the first time since long before he even stood down. But it’s a long time since Chipp left the Liberal’s ranks, the priorities of Democrats in 2001 are different to those of his day.

Rank and file Dems are rattled – as the following statements will show. They’ve all been culled down from Democrat e-mails that have fallen of the back of an ethanol-powered vehicle and ended up in Hillary’s hands. As many of them have been cc’d to Redgum and the Rorter, Hillary won’t quote directly – but will make sure the integrity of their contents remains intact.

At the beginning of the year, Hillary reported that administrative blunders had meant that the New South Wales Democrats lacked the 750 members needed for registration as a political party. Hillary may have been charitable in allocating the blame.

Our insiders tell us that in the last 12 months Democrat membership has dropped by around 20 per cent. In Victoria, it is estimated that the membership has almost halved, and the party has scarcely existed in Tasmania since Bob Brown took their Senate spot. The only place where the numbers have held up is the ACT.

The decline in membership is only showing up now, as disillusioned members chose not to resign but have rather let their memberships lapse. As the grace period for renewals ends, the membership situation is being revealed.

Figures from South Australia – where the Democrats inherited state and federal MPs and a strong organisation from Steele Hall’s Liberal Movement, the home state of three Democrat leaders (including the current incumbent plus her deputy) and hold three upper house seats – show numbers down by 11 per cent.

Democrat sources there say that with an election due later in the year, candidates are yet to be found for all the lower house seats and a preselection for the Legislative Council has not been held.

The Western Australian and Queensland results clearly spooked the party. The Dems were annihilated in the West. Our sources claim a big spending campaign in WA has left Democrat powerbrokers worried if there will be sufficient public funding to pay the bill for the federal election, with some even seeking advice on possible personal liability.

Queensland, with no upper house, isn’t Democrat friendly. However, at the last state election the party contested 42 seats. This time they ran in just six.

The official spin has been that these were “targeted” seats. Whatever the case, the Dems could not even score a five per cent average. Furious e-mails are flowing between members and Queensland polls expert John Cherry over the interpretation of the result. However, the Greens are crowing. They contested 31 seats, and are claiming an average seven per cent result in these.

The messages Crikey has received show huge anger over the GST. Yes, they are clearly from Democrat dissidents – but they also point to Morgan polling showing that the majority of Democrat members were opposed to the new tax system. Rumours still abound that rorter Cherry will be given a Senate spot, despite being forced to stand down from the ticket.

Dennis Shanahan gave a masterful dissection of Democrats’ dilemmas in his Weekend Australian column. They are being seen as part of the political establishment and losing votes – and they are very much under threat. So where to they go from here? Some of Crikey’s sources say the current manoeuvrings are being undertaken on behalf of Natasha Stott-Despoja – despite her unwillingness to launch a challenge and get blood on her hands. Surely there aren’t even Dems who are still fooled by young Natty?

Natasha must be the most shamelessly superficial politician in Australia. Column centimetres do not equate into credibility. When she opened Sydney’s first Starbucks – part of a big, bland multinational chain based in the states, representing everything you’d expect the Democrats to oppose – what was left of her credibility in media and all other political circles evaporated. Given the type of Democrat who seems to be leaving the party, Natasha’s chances of being drafted seem slim.

Other messages talk about Andrew Murray as a leader. It’s hard to forget his background as a campaigner for racial equality in Africa. Today, he is dull even in comparison with John Howard. The thought of a Murray Democrats seems bizarre.

The only other logical leader is Aden Ridgeway – articulate, intelligent, presentable and with the PC allure that being the first Indigenous Australian to lead a party in Parliament could bring. He must be the Dems best hope for survival.

Still, despite everything, it seems to be business as usual for the Dem leadership.

Last week Mystic Meg trotted out that old Democrat favourite of calling for a ban on how-to-vote cards. She said One Nation’s use of the preferential voting system has created a dangerous and destructive political climate in Australia, but prohibiting how-to-vote cards would make preference deals virtually useless.

The Dems have always trotted out this line. They have fewer members and fewer resources, so have always trotted out the “no how-to-votes” cards. A few years ago they used to justify this stance on environmental grounds.

Today, the Democrats are as jaded and cynical as any other party. The problem for them is that their members and supporters have only just started to realise.