I’ve been reluctant to post on the Latham book, for a variety of reasons. In particular, I donâ€™t much like politics as blood sport. I found the Brogden business pretty depressing, and similarly with this. The whole affair has certainly brought out the worst in a lot of people, including Latham himself.
Although I’ve seen various selected quotes, I didn’t watch the Denton interview until last night and I still haven’t got around to the book itself. Latham made some good points in the interview and had he chosen, he could have used his current position to make severe but constructive criticisms of the Australian political process and the Labor party. But on the whole he failed to do this, preferring instead to seek revenge on real and imagined enemies. Publishing a book of this kind is always a bad idea, and has obviously damaged Latham himself more than the targets of his indiscriminate attack. It’s also damaged the Labor party, though they are at such a low ebb in any case that it will probably not make much difference beyond the short term. But Beazley, his main target, seems to have emerged almost completely unscathed.
It’s clear enough from the Denton interview that Latham is very bitter about his election defeat and, even more so, the way he lost the leadership. I don’t think this degree of bitterness is justified. Although, like all party leaders, Latham had to contend with enemies within the party, he got more solid support from the Labor Party as a whole than most recent leaders on either side, at least until the election defeat. He certainly hasn’t repaid that loyalty in kind. As for the people who told him he had to go at the end of last year, that was pretty obvious from his non-response to the tsunami disaster, and he concedes that he had in fact decided to quit,
What’s less clear is the weight we should put on a book like this as compared to his public performance as leader, which I thought, and still think, was pretty good. It’s hard to tell whether, for example, Latham was unusually duplicitous as regards the difference between public and private views. The fact that he was unenthusiastic about the nature of the US alliance, for example, was scarcely a secret at the time, and it would take a fairly detailed comparison to make a clear judgement as to whether he was doing more than the usual act of a politician who has to endorse the party’s policy despite private reservations.
Similarly, the book has been clearly edited and publicised for maximum dramatic impact. Whether this was confined to focusing on the juicy bits, or whether the diary was ‘sexed up’ to enhance its subsequent impact, remains to be seen.
Overall, it is, as Denton said several times, a sad business.