March 12, 2004 | Peter

Latham’s Way

In the only speech I’ve heard Latham give in person (before he was ALP leader), he compared Labor’s position with that of the ALP under Gough Whitlam before the 1972 election. He said that the ALP had to do what Whitlam did, and present a genuine alternative to the conservatives. Whitlam of course did this, and no matter what is said about his government, it dragged Oz out of the 1950s and into the 1970s.
But the question I would have asked Latham had there been time was, “Whitlam had a platform that had new and radical ideas on practically every important aspect of Oz life. Where are the comparable ALP policies this time?”
The point is that Mark Latham has made a real impact on national politics, and successfully dragged the ALP along with him. But that impact is mostly courtesy of the media, who can just as easily turn on him. After all John Howard does know how to work the media and he has entrenched support in the media ownership.
So Latham has to move away from the current focus on leadership to one on policies. The ALP really has to present a whole raft of new policies on the issues that are approaching critical condition in this country, especially education, health, the environment, quality of life and industrial relations, and the great wealth divide generally.
No doubt any serious policies will be hammered by the media who are inherently conservative. This is a much a problem with the form of the media as the actual political leanings of media managers. The basic problem is that Labor as the party of reform has to put a coherent, sustained case for reform. All the conservatives need to do is let things go, and ‘market forces’ (or more accurately, the institutions of big business) will pretty much have their way. A few of the quality papers and the odd TV current affairs program (maybe on a Sunday when nobody is watching) will look deeper into issues, but most people get their info from the tabloids or TV/radio news. This form of truncated news, photo opportunities and sound bites, just does not allow presentation of a rational analysis and consistent policy.
What Labor has to do is wrong-foot the media in the same way Latham wrong-footed Howard by constantly raising issues. And the way to do this is to keep the substantive policies coming, and just argue for them like there is no tomorrow. With a little luck, this barrage of information, analysis and argument will itself become a media topic.
This means of course that the whole of the ALP has to get in there and play its part, which is a lot easier if you think you are working for real change as opposed to an inevitably fragile leader as symbol. As a group of people, I wish The ALP was a lot more talented and serious about meaningful social change, as opposed to just political power. But then perhaps a few more ALP personnel will remember what it’s all actually about if they have to think hard and long about the issues and what to do about them.

Posted by Peter at 3:51 pm | Comments Off on Latham’s Way |
Filed under: Uncategorized

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.