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Name: Antony Loewenstein
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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Labor blues

I've deliberately avoided commenting on the current Labor blues surrounding Mark Latham's biography, not wishing to add yet another voice to an already crowded field. The ALP is in dire straights, lacking direction, policy or solid ideology, but I'm hardly the first to say that, and nor will I be the last. Australia needs a strong Opposition - and Keating's former speechwriter, Don Watson, outlines how essential that should be - but Labor under Beazley is struggling for relevance.

The SMH's David Marr put it best at the launch in Sydney yesterday: "The sharks were hoping for blood. A packed room of press had gathered on a Crows Nest rooftop expecting to hear Senator John Faulkner do what he'd never done in his long career: drop a bucket on his own party."

Faulkner's speech was actually very interesting, in a kind of picking over the carcass kind of way. Unsurprisingly, he wasn't too happy with the book, "Loner: Inside a Labor Tragedy", but offered an honest appraisal of the Latham experiment: "Mark was a bold politician, passionate about the future Australia he imagined. Part of his tragedy is that he became leader of the Labor Party at a time when his boldness and his passion were not enough." Faulkner also took aim at the factional system of the party, a constant albatross rejecting real progress.

The SMH's Peter Hartcher, not one to ever see past the pure politics of the moment, writes that Latham has shown his true colours: "Everything Mark Latham has done since losing last year's federal election has vindicated the electorate's decision to reject him...In fact, his latest comments are so puerile and show such total lack of self-reflection that anyone reading them can only feel Australia dodged a bullet in deciding not to elect him prime minister."

When Latham accuses the Labor of being "beyond repair, beyond reform", who could seriously doubt his credentials? How relevant are the ALP in today's Australia? And who can name any major policies released by the party in the last years that have had major impact?

Latham will be releasing his own diaries in early October (through my publisher, Melbourne University Publishing) so there is much more to come. If Labor ever gets back into power - according to the Australian's Greg Sheridan, Beazley "stands an excellent chance of winning the next election. I'd rate him as just under even money against John Howard and just better than even money against Peter Costello" - what will they stand for? Who will they represent? And what kind of Australia will they shape? Many people may not wait around to find out.


Anonymous Guy said...

I was surprised at Sheridan's optimism as well, but by the same token I think he raises a good point about Beazley's everyman character. He may not be a dynamic leader but he is one that quite a lot of people retain some affection for.

Latham's credentials are certainly open to question. Some of the criticisms he draws are valid, but they are not new ones, and at least from what I have seen so far, he has communicated them in an ineffective way.

Like it or not, the ALP hold government in every state and territory in the country. They must be relevant, otherwise the majority of people are voting for something they consider irrelevant.

Thursday, June 30, 2005 2:27:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Many people may not wait around to find out."

Where are they going to go?

Thursday, June 30, 2005 2:54:00 pm  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

One may have a splintering of support away from the major parties, to the Greens and smaller parties.
Beazley may well get elected, but to simply presume he'd be a better PM, more compassionate, more independent of the US etc, is wishful thinking, I reckon.

Thursday, June 30, 2005 3:18:00 pm  
Anonymous doylie said...

My parents are picket fence - and they at least respected Latham for all the same reasons that he is now being ridiculed: he talks straight, he abuses the powerful, and he didn't tell fibs. They'll likely vote for Johnny again, but they will also see Latham's critique of the ALP as legit - "he should know, and good on 'im for saying so".

I'm over the major parties - in fact, over polar politics altogether - but I think that Latham and his outbursts are good for what remains of Australian labour.

Friday, July 01, 2005 1:37:00 am  
Blogger Shay said...

That's two days in a row you've used "dire straights". At the risk of being pedontic, I'd better point out that it's "straits". Yeah, I'm a bloody English teacher.

Friday, July 01, 2005 1:01:00 pm  

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