Thursday, 2 December 2004

The Latham Implosion (A Continuing Series)

At least 50% of my readership is from outside Australia, so it's not been that often that I've commented too much on Australian, as opposed to Global, politics.

But the Latham saga is just too good to ignore, and would be entertaining even if it happened in Outer Mongolia. It's straight out of Yes, Minister (which is not viewed as a Satire here in Oz, more of a docu-drama. Until comparatively recently, we didn't have a "Ministry of Administrative Affairs", but we did have the "Department of Administrative Services" that, legend has it, was the role model).

From The Australian :
Former Labor national secretary Bob Hogg today told The Australian and The Australian Financial Review newspapers Mr Latham should not remain as Labor leader.

Former Hawke government finance minister Peter Walsh told a Quadrant Magazine dinner in Sydney last night he did not think Mr Latham would last as Labor leader.

Tasmanian Labor MP Dick Adams today said if Labor was behind in the polls next year new questions would be asked about Mr Latham's leadership.
But it's not all Bad News for our Mark.
But Mr Adams said Mr Latham had support to stay in the leadership for the time being.

"I'm saying at this stage everyone's supporting Mark Latham," he said.
Emphasis added. Meanwhile, there's the mandatory pro-forma protestations of loyalty and sincerity.
Senior Labor MPs today defended Mr Latham's leadership.

Opposition industry, infrastructure and industrial relations spokesman Stephen Smith said he was friends with Mr Hogg but he did not agree with him that Mr Latham should go.

"I'm soft on Hoggy, Hoggy is a mate of mine," Mr Smith said.

"I think Hoggy's suffering from the same affliction we all are.

"And the way I describe that: It's five more question times to Christmas."
A Santa-led recovery? I think even Tinekrbell's Magic wand wouldn't be enough in this case.
Mr Smith also rejected Mr Adam's statement that Mr Latham's leadership would be re-assessed if the party was not performing in the polls next year.

"I don't believe that," he said.

Labor health spokeswoman Julia Gillard said she did not think foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd was mustering the numbers to challenge Mr Latham.

"No, I don't," she said.

Mr Rudd last night said Mr Latham had been re-elected unopposed by the Labor caucus and deserved a second go.

Labor MP Daryl Melham said he did not think Mr Rudd would challenge Mr Latham.

"He knows how to count and he's shown his loyalty to Mark," Mr Melham told reporters.
"He knows how to count...". Rudd's in then, he's just waiting to get the numbers.

And then there's the latest Op-Ed :
Labor should get rid of Mark Latham as leader straightaway. The choice is stark - three, six, nine months of slithering, twisting anguish and egotistical tantrums, of bitter leadership rancour and the eventual death of the mad Latham experiment.

Or a swift, surgical movement now that allows the party to embrace a new leader, preferably Kevin Rudd, and a credible two-term strategy for regaining government.

No one you talk to in the ALP really believes Latham will last until the next election. A senior Labor figure told me this week he thought Latham's leadership was dead but it would be some time before things got better for Labor, so Latham should be associated with the bad times.

One frontbencher routinely describes Latham as "the madman" and says his demons have come to get him.

Another Labor figure told me he regretted that Julia Gillard did not become shadow treasurer, as that would have seen the whole Latham calamity crash quickly.
Naturally, the sheer scale of Latham's fantastic political failure has taken time to sink in. His erratic and bizarre behaviour since the election, the temper tantrums, blaming everyone else, calling on a public stoush with deputy Senate leader Stephen Conroy, in which he had to back down from his threat to discipline Conroy, while making sure that everyone in the country knows a member of his leadership team thinks him unfit to be PM, has his colleagues worried.
Latham's colleagues find him emotionally brittle, unstable and vindictive, as evidenced by his astounding ability to have rancorous personal feuds with inoffensive characters such as Greg Lindsay from the Centre for Independent Studies or Peter Botsman.

A number of senior Labor people who think about these things were deeply concerned over whether Latham was a fit person to have control of the organs of national security.

Similarly, the destructive interaction of Latham's mood swings with national security was evident in the sequence on the US: offensive language about the US President, followed by the stars-and-stripes press conference, followed by the troops-out-by Christmas gaffe, followed by mute impotence in the whole foreign policy debate. It's a frightening template for government.

Rudd, by contrast, is a mainstream person with good people skills, emotionally stable, who has completely mastered complex policy and translated it effectively in the media. His ability to generate newspaper headlines critical of the Government's Asian diplomacy this week, when we began negotiations for a free trade agreement with ASEAN, was a typical example ofhis political effectiveness. He achieves these results not through stunts and gimmicks, "triangulation" and "new politics", but by mastering an area, briefing journalists effectively, speaking cleverly in parliament, working indefatigably.

In other words, old politics done well. Given his years running the Queensland cabinet office, he has deep domestic policy experience as well. Rudd would give Labor a chance to rebuild. No one is more likely to find a bridge between the inner-city moral middle class and the outer-suburban aspirationals. And if against all expectations Rudd proved a disaster, there would still be the one-minute-to-midnight Beazley option.

King Lear summed up Latham's leadership: "This way madness lies."
It's ptrobably too much to hope that the editors at the Oz might have been reading this blog, but stranger things have happened here in Canberra.

Of course, being a Liberal supporter, I should really be barracking for Latahm to remain. But frankly, I'd like to at least pretend to myself that when I vote, it's a choice. And that requires two credible alternatives.

Previous Articles :

Politics as High Farce
Latham's Last Stand
Dead Man Walking
The Buck Passes Here
Latham Cops an Endorsement
New Labor in Australia

I think that's quite enough. I'll limit my posts about the political games in the ALP to only the more amusing highlights from hereon in.

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