December 03, 2003 | Peter

“What I Really Meant Was…”

Mark Latham’s first job is to disavow all those interesting things he said before the gravitas of leadership transformed him. Like Howard being an arselicker and Bush being flaky. Funny thing, of course, is that his forthrightness – such a change from the usual banal polly-speak – seems to strike a cord with many Australians because they think that at least he’s saying what he thinks. And it certainly got him headlines (memo to ambitious young political types – any publicity is good publicity, up to a point).
So now he has to play the game and waffle on about context and the robust interchange of ideas in a democracy to journalists who don’t have any better questions to ask, until ML mark 2 (or is it mark 3?) is established in the public consciousness.
Leaders can’t be totally honest, of course, or the world would be in constant turmoil (although, actually, if everyone did it, things might turn out a lot better than they are). But we now have a crop of world leaders who lie and dissemble as standard practice. Howard’s dishonesty is rightly an election issue, Blair has done the seemingly impossible and wrecked his reputation through lies, and Bush never says anything that isn’t a simplistic motherhood statement.
I think the basic problem lies with the mass media, especialy electronic. First there is the problem of sound bites which makes it almost impossible to put any kind of coherent argument for consumption by the TV news. Second is the problem of lazy journos who just go for the sensational over the substantive – it’s the political journalism version of making them cry on current affairs. They just won’t do their homework and ask questions about underlying issues.
So Latham has to play the game, but I hope he at least lets the fire smoulder in his belly, says the odd unpredictable thing, and gives the smug patriarch who currently runs things in Oz a good reason to retire.

Posted by Peter at 12:32 pm | Comments (4) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. I don’t think you can take away from the fact that several supporters of Latham elected him on the basis of his larrikin image. To lose his vernacular approach to oratory would be disingenuous to his supporters. As Labor has decided to adopt a new image (rather than pitting good-bloke-Beazley or good-bloke-Crean against good-bloke-Johnny), it would be far more effective of Latham to retain as much of his outspoken nature as possible without offending the masses.
    Already mainstream media have identified the masses who either love him or hate him, but the love-hate relationship is far more likely to engender an interest in leadership and policy than the good bloke routine that has hindered Labor Party profile in the past few years.

    Comment by jj — December 3, 2003 @ 1:41 pm

  2. Exactly. How does he look responsible but still keep the spark? The point about differentiating himself from the rest is important. If he can get and keep media attention, he can slip in a little policy as well. Although we don’t really know what that policy will be. Will Labor (and leadership) tame Latham, or vice versa?

    Comment by peter — December 3, 2003 @ 7:03 pm

  3. I think we are being too polite to have genuine dissent. When Bush visited us, S. Crean looked like he was waiting to be allowed to represent the strong feeling of disagreement here, and missed any chance to do so. The dissenters seem to have no representative. Come on Mark Latham !

    Comment by Danny — December 8, 2003 @ 2:03 pm

  4. I know little of Latham but I liked his forthrightness and I’m sorry it’s being modified. I hope it doesn’t reduce him to the blandness of others.
    What worries me most however is that, when it comes to economic and social policy, Latham is as great an arselicker as Howard or any other of the Washington Consensus mob. Born about 1961, Latham has grown up with the ill-conceived monetarist, market and privatisation policies that have done such dreadful damage to our national economy and society and the international equivalents. He wants to cut taxes and he speaks of “tax and spend” with the same contempt as those blockheads who have introduced such poverty and inequality into Australia, who have caused us to gut our industry and lose our jobs to the Tigers, China etx, and who have denied us the public investment that could have made our private investment great. Am American once said of a vice-presiential candidate, “He’s no Jack Kennedy.” Sadly, for the moment at least, I must say of Mark Latham, “He’s no Ben Chifley.”
    I hope the coming year or two might make me eat those words and see Latham ceasing to be an arselicker of those who swallow US economic and social policies. I hope he’ll be a man and stand up and denounce those who threaten a genuinely stable, high-growth, relatively egalitarian and more trulydemocratic Australia.

    Comment by James Cumes — December 11, 2003 @ 9:36 pm

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