The “whither the Dems post Natasha” reportage seems to be focusing on personalities and their profile– on possible Senate contenders.
Except we shouldn’t be looking at just the Dems. We should be looking at the wider issue of who holds the balance of power in the Senate. And that involves a few more p-words than just personalities and profile – like protest, pragmatism and parochialism.
Barnaby Joyce happened to be in Adelaide yesterday, and the notoriously inward-looking Advertiser is rejoicing in his remarks on how South Australians should now vote:
To be a real check on power you have to be prepared to cross the floor. Now which (major) party is going to do that? The National Party is really the only one… able to be a true arbiter in the Senate…. SA now has a great chance to become a major player in federal politics.
Who do voters want to hold the balance of power in the Senate? Joyce, God bless him, is almost suggesting that the chamber should function as a state’s house – a radical notion.
Pragmatism, of course, did it for the Dems – the GST deal. But will protest – voting Green – act as anything other than a gesture?
When the status quo returns in the Senate – the Coalition majority goes – the ruling party of the day may find it easier to negotiate with the opposition than a radical fringe. The Greens may be able to make a lot noise, but have minimal input into policy making.
There’s another p-word, too, worth mentioning – paradox. Here are some of the responses to our call for a five point plan to save the Democrats contained ideas like these:
• Reclaim the middle ground of rational policy. The government’s abandoned it, Labor doesn’t want it and the Greens don’t get it…
• Occupy that middle ground they used to. With repetitive rhetoric from the Govt and the consistent no risk taking strategy form Labor, the Democrats have a great chance to be the voice of reason and highlight the smoke and mirrors of both parties…
• Take on the Greens. These guys are the Dems real enemy… [M]uch of the Greens support comes from well-off soft liberals disappointed with the Howard Governments stance on Iraq and hard-heartedness over humanitarian issues. The Dems must win this demographic, which if you think about it is pretty much their traditional constituency. To do this they need a scare campaign about just how crazy the greens can be to drive soft liberals back home into the Dems camp.
• Design a clear, powerful and distinctive policy platform based around moderating the most extreme elements of the Coalition’s foreign affairs, border protection and ‘culture-war’ initiatives (eg education, IR), but also keeping distance from Labor’s worst union- and faction-based traits
• Identify “the base” – disaffected liberals who won’t vote Labor, disaffected Labor voters who won’t vote liberal, “inner city latte sippers”, “sea-changers” in the regions, internet-savvy news consumers, “young” professionals, the bizarrely named “doctor’s wives”.
Lots of that sounds like the pragmatism that got the Democrats into trouble over the GST. And Crikey readers recognised that. They talked about personalities and profile, too. They recognised that Natasha Stott-Despoja appeared to be the party’s best talent.
They also acknowledged that she was probably too strongly identified with the “radical” wing of the party to drive the Democrats down the pragmatic path – hence the paradox.