Hillary Bray just loves the Dems and has stood back from the recent action to assess the damage.

Excuse us for stating the bleeding obvious, but the starting point has to be the rift hasn't healed.

Natasha Stott Despoja spent a lot of time on the phone last week to Lyn Allison, asking if she'd run for the deputy leader's position. She didn't. That means that the party is still spilt, three-four but also that the Fundis have divisions of their own, with both Brian Greig and Andrew Bartlett nominating for the leadership.

The Insiders

Up until the end of last week, the Dems' old brigade we'll call them the Insiders were of the general view that the Gang of Four had publicly lost their raison d'etre and hence the spinning war.

They'd joke that four Senators could do little against the corporate might of Gavin Anderson Stott Depoja's fiancee's spinning outfit but the calls to talk-back and the letters to newspapers criticising Meg Lees and the Gang for picking on Natty seemed very quick off the mark and consistent in their line.

Still, their view as a whole was that John Cherry had been right to press Stott Despoja on her lack of leadership, her lack of management ability, her lack of strategy and her lack of administrative nous. Some wags wondered why it took him so long. Others said the Gang of Four should have moved straight after the election.

This last lot were knocked back by the claim that with a party stacked full of gays and students, Stott Despoja was safe. Even then, veteran Insiders pointed to the party ballot figures. Only 28 per cent of the Democrat membership voted at the election that saw Stott Despoja elected leader with 80 per cent of the vote the lowest turn-out for a leadership vote ever.

A polite consensus prevailed in the end amongst the Insiders a consensus that says that the Gang of Four had been really trying to make things work for 16 months under Stott Despoja, even though it was clear from the start that they were wasting their time.

One Insider made a point that no-one in the media has run with yet. Lees was fighting rearguard, undermining and sniping actions from Stott Despoja and her band of little helpers from the time of the GST in 1999 until the final ballot in 2001. Stott Despoja and her staff were leaking furiously against Lees and her loyalists in the gallery and then she had the gall to throw a hissy-fit doorstop accusing Lees' staff of undermining her. But despite this provocation, at no time did Lees and her team let things get out of hand anywhere near to the level it has in recent months.

The Insiders feel that this is their worst time the Dems have ever seen and put it all down to Stott Despoja, Brian Grieg's eminence grise and porn enthusiast John Davey and their little band of helpers.

While they are divided on the subject, a majority feel that Andrew Murray, Aden Ridgeway, John Cherry and Lyn Allison should join with Meg Lees to launch a new force, particularly if Brian Greig becomes leader. They see no future in that direction, particularly for Murray.

A dead parrot?

The leadership debacle and the reaction from observers offers the Gang of Four some hope. Michelle Grattan's description of the party in the Sunday Age as looking like a "a combination of crazies and wimps" in the wake of the leadership nomination and her encouragement for a Gang of Four/Lees breakaway group has been encouraging. There is also the matter of the actual points that lead to Stott Despoja's resignation.

Last week, Brian Greig said their "ten point plan" was a "a dead parrot". It went down a treat with the Gallery so well, in fact, that no-one bothered to ask any of the Gang of Four if it still was on the table.

They say quite clearly that it is. Some points, obviously, will change with the change of leader but an implementation plan for the rest is on the table for the party room to discuss where, to paraphrase another Monty Python sketch, Greig will face the full half hour argument, not just a five minute one.

Members rule only if they vote

The more emboldened supporters of the Gang of Four keep harking back to internal election results.

The Fundis keep on chanting the mantra "members rule", and warn that the party's sacred participatory democracy model is not to be touched. Oddly enough, they don't seem to remember that only 15 per cent bothered to vote at the National Executive elections back in June that gave the party Liz Oss-Emer and co.

Crikey has a set of figures that claim to show the percentage of actual party members, as opposed to members who voted, that support the various members of the executive. They give no member more than 10.5 per cent but provide the dissenters with plenty of encouragement that there are people ready to support them.

The closing of nominations for the leader and deputy leader of the Australian Democrats has done nothing to bring their troubles to a halt. Indeed, not even that could go as planned.

In the Commonwealth Parliament, five is the magic number. Once a political grouping has that many members, it qualifies as a party with all the extra resources a party gets.

The Gang of Four plus Lees equals five. Will we see a new party? Will the Democrats split?

The Fundis are divided and the Gang of Four now have new credibility and new resolve.

There is much to come yet.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]