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Grattan on Friday: The loners who lead, and trash, ‘personality’ parties

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Let the voter beware. We may be in a “celebrity” age but personality parties, based around a “name” implode, explode, or fizzle. In the last few years, we’ve seen them do all three.

On Thursday came the latest episode in the One Nation soapie, when senator Brian Burston announced he was leaving the party to sit as an independent. Pauline Hanson had effectively tossed him out anyway.

Only a couple of weeks ago, after their spectacular falling out over company tax cuts, Burston was declaring Pauline had her moods and he hoped they’d make up. She responded by saying he should give up his seat.

So now Hanson is down from having four Senate numbers after the 2016 election to two, with multiple bizarre twists in the course of the shrinkage. The combination of a capricious leader and eccentric and accident prone followers has cost the party what was a decisive power position in the Senate.

On the face of it, Pauline Hanson and Nick Xenophon have little in common. Hanson’s politics operate, in considerable part, around the extremes; she taps into some dark places and often generates outrage. Ex-senator Xenophon hoovered up those disillusioned with the major parties, but from a centrist position.

In terms of leadership style, however, we can see a certain commonality. As a leader, Xenophon was autocratic – albeit his was a much smoother, smilier face of autocracy than Hanson’s. As in any party based around a personality, it was all (or at least mostly) about him.

One paradox of leaders of personality parties is that while they attract voters and so can get others elected, this can be their downfall, because they are by........

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