September 20, 2005 | Graham

Latham – history is not always written by the victors

Mark Latham is pitching for history, not the present, with his diary. Its style suggests that it was designed to be published right from the very beginning, and if that is the case, while Mark appears a little fevered in his media interviews, the book shouldn’t be written off as the work of a madman. Or at the very least that madman should be given some credit for guile.
It was predictable that both the Labor and Journalistic tribes should close up against Latham – he exposes leaders of both of them – but from what I have seen of the Latham Diaries they have the ring of truth about them. Now, I might be biased, because as a good Liberal I was weaned on tales of Labor corruption. And in latter days, when I have seen a lot of practices such as those outlined by Latham infecting the Liberals, I have tended to think it was a result of some in the party plagiarising the practices of Labor.
I may also be too inclined to be generous to Latham’s motives – we’re both former insiders writing about the inside, (although I’ve obviously never been embedded as deeply as Latham). In my case I do it mostly because I think it is vital that at least some of those who write about political parties are their friends, rather than those who are indifferent, or even hostile. I also think that truth matters and that most of what is written about political parties is bunk because those writing rely on partial and unreliable accounts of what happened – sometimes because they lack sources, and other times because they are hacks more interested in a publishing dollar than making a considered contribution. A low standard of accuracy in political journalism and history is ultimately corrosive of the political process because it robs all of us of a sound basis on which to make decisions.
But it doesn’t matter what Latham’s motives are – the effect of the diaries will be the same. Anyone who writes a history of Australian politics between 1994 and 2004 will need to reference them. What’s more they will carry more weight as a source than most of the newspaper column inches written about the same period because, as Latham repeatedly says, “I put my name to them.” That’s more than the anonymous backgrounders of journalists will do, and the reason why ultimately their version of the truth will not carry as far into the future as Latham’s. It’s hard to footnote rumour, and you can’t write a history based on it.
It’s not true that the victors get to write history. When you win you have less motive and time to write. Losers, on the other hand, have all the time in the world.

Posted by Graham at 7:32 am | Comments (5) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. media and democracy

    I interpret this image by Cathy Wilcox as an interesting attempt to connect the public image of Mark Latham the politician to the person:–a homedad in a Sydney suburb who is doing a bit of writing that reflects on his experiences as leader of the fede…

    Comment by Public Opinion — September 20, 2005 @ 11:04 am

  2. You have time to mold perceptions of the past when you win though.

    Comment by Vee — September 20, 2005 @ 3:30 pm

  3. Graham
    Thanks for your blog. Hmmm. You raise some interesting points.

    Comment by Kay — September 20, 2005 @ 4:27 pm

  4. It appears to me that Mark Latham might have a spit personality. That would explain than that he was saying one thing and at the same time recording in his dairy another thing.
    The man doesn’t make sense to me. Worse, I am told someone is going to give me a copy of his dairy for free to me. I would never have purchased any anyhow.
    When we look at Mark Latham, then to me he was no different then other politicians.
    Whenever I wrote to him about constitutional issues he ignored it all. So, where is his credibility in that regard where he was as much allowing the rot?
    Just, that after I made a Senate Committee submission in December 2003 about it being unconstitutional for Federal Politicians to have the superannuation as they have, then immediately upon return from holidays Mark Latham announced he was cutting back superannuation (from up to 80%) to a mere 9%. And, we all know that John Howard soon followed suit to accept this, without either consulting with other members of their party.
    Simply, they knew they were unconstitutionally (and so illegally) getting superannuation benefits and so sought to at least keep the 9%.
    Where was Mark Latham to challenge John Howard about the unconstitutional/illegal invasion into Iraq? At most he bragged about bringing home troops by Christmas but not about pursuing the constitutional/legal validity!
    In my view, Mark Latham was no better then any other politician, of what ever political party they belong, and his writings generated for a book publication hardly shows who he really was!
    During the Andrew Denton interview he didn’t even remember who was associated to a certain nickname he had given to that person!
    Seems to me that Mark Latham may very well have written the Dairy not as a true account of what really was going on but with the intention to distort the truth and to pretend some different version of events, as to try to write his own kind of history.
    When Kevin Rudd was interviewed by 7.30 Report Kerry O’Brian, one noticed that Kevin Rudd, as he often does, to members of the government, at least that I noticed, paid a compliment to Alexander downer. Now, that is what make Kevin Rudd stand out because he can recognize and acknowledge the good of an opponent (of another political party) as much as the bad.
    Mark Latham however seems to see bad only!

    Comment by Mr G. H. Schorel-Hlavka — September 20, 2005 @ 11:43 pm

  5. I have heard that everybody in Canberra flooded the bookstores to check the index and see if they had scored a mention. “Well I don’t know about you Sheila, but I’m only going to buy it if he slags off at me!”

    Comment by Benno — September 21, 2005 @ 10:50 pm

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