It must have been apparent to members at the foundation of the Democratic Party in 1994 that if they were to have a long-term future the day would come when they would have to widen the party's parameters and redefine its objectives. That milestone is now within sight. The debate going on within the party is a marker that it is coming of age. Its democratic credentials were of prime importance to the electorate at a time of great political uncertainty. But that may hide a danger to the party's development - being pro-democracy all too easily became an end in itself with the result that insufficient attention was paid to evolving the kind of policies which any wide-ranging political party should have, particularly on the major subject of current concern: the economy. Equally, to be seen to be a party that would stand up for Hong Kong against Beijing was a potent vote-getter before the handover, but has declined as worries about the central Government's policies towards the SAR have lessened. Now that life has moved on from the situation when the party made its initial big breakthroughs, priorities have shifted, both inside and outside party ranks. The economic crisis has polarised opinion among Democratic members, bringing pressure on the leadership to pay less attention to middle class concerns, and instead address the livelihood problems facing the grassroots. Nothing is more natural than for militant Democrats to feel frustration at changes in the legislative system which dilute their influence in Legco. But politicians have to operate in the real world if they wish to influence events rather than making noises on the margins. Under present circumstances, the Democrats will achieve far more by staying the course and trying to work within the system than by abandoning the debating chamber and taking to the streets, as some younger elements are said to be advocating. If Hong Kong had full democracy, the Democrats would be the ruling party. Hence the anger of some members at seeing the party reduced to acting in opposition. But if the Democrats lack power, they still enjoy wide influence derived from the electorate. They are a potent force in Legco which would lose much of its credibility without the Democratic presence. Rather than being tempted to throw in the towel, they should concentrate on defining and developing policies that enable them to play their role in the political process to the full.