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LABOR’S LOSS: Latham ought never have been leader but could have been a legend

Labor’s boning of Beazley and unwise over-promotion of the very talented Rudd and Latham are central to the difficulties the ALP has faced since 2007.

This is increasingly the view Labor people have of the past six years where they have done quite a few good things but really struggled bringing the country with them. Failing to “sell the narrative” as appalling Canberra jargon goes is not an excuse for politicians, it’s like a footballer saying he’s playing really well except he can’t kick.

When Mark Latham writes, sometimes it’s scary, his unmitigated lerv for the People’s Republic of China and downright hatred of his colleagues as revealed in his Diaries was pretty alarming stuff.

Other times, as today, you cannot help but reflect on what might have been. As a senior Labor minister, a Treasurer, an Education minister, a Finance minister, he would have gone down in history as one of the greats. A true reformer.

His piece on Western Sydney in the Fin today exemplifies why many Labor moderates once thought him a slightly less-refined version of the awesome Keating. He challenges snobbery and presumption that oozes out of many journos and politicians about that rapidly changing part of Sydney with facts, analysis and insight that most have lacked this week. He gets it. His instinct and learning is perhaps perfectly summarised in his commentary, it’s Keating’s insight too, that opening up the country, opening up opportunity and markets actually has massively benefited working people.

His over-promotion to leader and subsequent implosion robbed Australian public life of someone who – as a reforming policy-maker – would have been bold, insightful, creative, tough and would have had a lot of success bringing people with him.

While he has some stiff competition from the also very talented Kevin Rudd, Latham is, in a way, federal Labor’s biggest tragedy and waste of talent.

And – right on cue – there’s this unpleasantness bringing back even less pleasant memories.

A tragic waste.


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  1. I can’t help myself. I still admire Mark Latham for his policy prescriptions despite his turgid writing style. He is a far deeper thinker than Kevin Rudd. His only real competition in the ALP was Lindsay Tanner who expressed a vision of society not radically different to Latham’s even though he started from different traditional left values. It would have been quite a different ALP government if Beazley had been leader in 2007. I think the result may have been a tad closer but the ALP would still have won. A Cabinet with Latham and Tanner providing the intellectual rigour and Beazley the global perspective would have dealt with the Global Financial Crisis in a completely different way and the waste and debt would have been far less.

    Latham has quite rightly identified the aspirational voters of Western Sydney – these are not trendy lefty tree huggers with public service or academic jobs but the foundation of a modern private sector economy. They just want the government to leave them alone as much as possible preferably by cutting taxes and keeping the economy on an even keel.

    Posted by Giuseppe De Simone | March 4, 2013, 9:55
  2. I wasn’t ready to lead, says Mark Latham

    FORMER Labor leader Mark Latham has made a rare admission of “personal failure” in a new “constructive” essay on the Labor Party’s future, conceding that he was not ready to lead the party in 2003 as he lacked real-life experience and his ideas were not fully formed.

    “I came to the leadership too young (at 42 years of age),” he writes, “with too little life experience (not yet having built a home and raised a family) and with too much of my policy thinking still a work-in-progress.”

    Mr Latham, who was federal Labor leader from 2003 to 2005, offers a stinging critique of the modern Labor Party in a new Quarterly Essay, Not Dead Yet: Labor’s Post-Left Future, obtained by The Australian ahead of its official release.

    He urges the party to rid itself of union-based factionalism and rent-seeking union influence on policy; recapture Paul Keating’s economic legacy; and embrace internal reform to rebuild community engagement.

    “The party is confused on economic policy,” Mr Latham argues, “not knowing whether to embrace the Keating legacy of microeconomic reform and productivity growth or to accede to the sectional demands of union/factional bosses and the anti-competitive comfort of industry welfare.”

    Mr Latham argues that Labor once a mass participation party of working men and women with strong community links is now controlled by unions and a coterie of politicians who have failed to address the core policy challenges of education, poverty and climate change.

    “Union power is now exercised through centralised control: union secretaries donating money and staff to marginal seats and rounding up the numbers at state and federal Labor conferences,” he writes.

    He lashes a succession of Labor leaders, from Kim Beazley and Simon Crean to Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, for abandoning the Hawke-Keating government’s commitment to competitive markets and the policies of “economic aspiration”. Mr Latham describes Ms Gillard as “a transactional leader” who is “a tough-minded doer, rather than a policy wonk or inspirational figure”.

    “There is little evidence of Gillard wanting to tackle Labor’s identity and structural problems, of her leading a renewed push for party reform,” he writes.

    He credits Mr Rudd with delivering Labor “an exhilarating election victory” that “inspired a generation of true believers to believe again”. But he says Mr Rudd “put public popularity ahead of the development of public policy” and failed to deal effectively with climate change, the mining tax and border protection.

    Mr Latham says Mr Rudd should replace Greg Combet as Climate Change Minister and be given the task of campaigning “on the public importance of global warming”.

    Mr Latham describes the Labor Party as being at a “tipping point in its history”, arguing that the rise of “union-based factionalism” and the “hollowing out” of the party as more serious than Labor’s parliamentary splits in 1916, 1931 and 1955. “The union/factional wing of the party has divorced itself from the rank and file,” he writes. “Thus modern Labor is living in an institutionalised fallacy. It is two parties in one, two divisions pulling against each other.”

    The strongest focus in the essay is on economic policy. Mr Rudd’s post-global financial crisis claim that neo-liberal economic ideas had “failed” is ridiculed and Wayne Swan’s attack on mining billionaires is dismissed as “a populist critique of market economics”.

    Vital to Labor’s future success, Mr Latham argues, is that Labor must again appeal to new swathes of middle-class voters with policies to support “economic aspiration”, embrace globalisation and reject union demands to protect old smokestack industries.

    “Whether we like it or not,” he writes, “what’s good for capital investment in the economy is also good for employment levels, wages and working conditions”.

    Rather than focus economic policy on “cost-of-living issues”, Labor should argue to voters that governments can actually do little about rising costs and focus on childcare and education.

    The party, he writes, has been unable to win “the political trust of the new aspirational class”, nor has it been able to lift the underclass out of disadvantage.

    Labor’s promise to unleash an “education revolution” is ridiculed as nothing but “a Sunday church picnic”, as international research shows that “Australia’s schools today are little different form when Labor came to power in 2007”. Mr Latham proposes higher pay and standards for teachers; incentives for parents to help with reading and homework; the transfer of school control to principals, parents and communities; and revamping school performance measurement initiatives. He offers no support for the Gonski reforms to school resourcing, arguing that “simply writing a cheque . . . is not a solution”.

    Mr Latham argues that “the impending climate change disruption” is one of the seminal events that will chart the destiny of civilisation. He says Labor must mediate between far-right denialists and the dogma of the radical Green Left. He supports the government’s carbon pricing and mandatory renewable energy target but warns against big-government-led industry programs as a way to stimulate new technological advances.

    Mr Latham also accuses The Australian of being “removed from the political mainstream” and running a “smear campaign” against Ms Gillard over the AWU slush fund scandal.


    Posted by I wasn't ready to lead, says Mark Latham | March 7, 2013, 15:41
  3. The simple fact is the last complete or fully rounded leader the ALP had was Keating. For the Libs it was Howard.
    Everyone since has quickly demonstrated their fundamentally flawed nature which is the defining characteristic of the managerial/professional political class.
    Generational change or a darker reflection of contemporary Australian life and values?
    Sadly Aussie politics is now just a boring, badly scripted soap opera. Uncle Rupert wouldn’t want it any other way!

    Posted by Colonel Hogan | March 7, 2013, 20:16