Let me say this much first:
I always thought Mark Latham got a raw deal, from pretty much everyone. I always liked him as an opposition leader. I thought he was the breath of fresh air that the Labor party, and Australian politics in general, needed after the blandness of Howard and the small-target strategy of Beazley. I saw nothing wrong with the now infamous handshake with Howard. Yes, it was intimidating, but if John “man of steel” Howard couldn’t stand up to a handshake from his opponent, then we should all wonder about his “ticker.” It was simply the body-language equivalent of, as Julia Gillard said to Tony Abbott over a handshake, “Game on!” I have to admit that I was surprised the electorate didn’t respond to Latham in the same way as they have to other loose cannons with iffy pasts like Wilson Tuckey or Bob Hawke.
I also think it was disgraceful the way Latham was treated by his own party after he left politics. They dismiss the man – “the Latham experiment” – as the Liberal party might dismiss Fightback or Incentivation. And I never had a problem with his book. For all the bile that The Latham Diaries contained, it was the kick up the arse that Labor needed. They needed to re-evaluate themselves and they did. I’m not drawing a line between the book and Labor’s comeback but obviously it didn’t damage the party.
I say this to indicate that it really wasn’t until this week that I thought, “What the hell is Latham thinking?”
As a commentator for Sky News, he categorically asserted that it was Kevin Rudd who did the leaking to Laurie Oakes. It was a statement that had Kevin Rudd talking legal action but even then, I was willing to put it down to Latham being Latham – shooting his mouth off to get noticed, which he did.
But I now have to say that he has well and truly abandoned all claims to principle by going to work for Channel 9 and 60 Minutes. Those with memories that stretch back longer than the last twitter hashtag game, might remember what 60 Minutes did to Latham in the 2004 election. The Sunday after the election was called, 60 Minutes had an interview with each leader. I can’t find any of it on YouTube, but the interviews went something like this:
Charles Wooley: Thank you for your time Prime Minister. Have a free kick.
John Howard: Stump speech.
Charles Wooley: Thank you for the answer Prime Minister. Have another free kick.
Liz Hayes: Mr Latham, we don’t know who you are.
Mark Latham: Well, I’m...
Liz Hayes: But we don’t know who you are. But we don’t know who you are.
Okay, I am exaggerating the level of bias a little bit, but seriously, every time Liz Hayes opened her mouth in that interview, she said, “But we don’t know who you are!”
Now these are the people you want to work for Mark? Since you clearly have a lot of bitterness left, can’t you spare some for 60 Minutes instead of being the gift that keeps on giving for the Liberal party? If you’re going to tell Julia who she should be complaining about, have a look at your employer.
Latham’s stunt confronting Gillard yesterday is indefensible. He immediately tried to make the story all about himself, made another baseless accusation, complained that he needed to make a living, and later took questions from the rest of the press pack, talking about what a farce it all was.
I still feel a little bit sorry for Mark Latham. I hope he doesn’t need the work this badly, and I hope he’s trying to be a showman rather than really being this bitter. Mark, last week, you said of the leaks which you accuse Kevin Rudd of, “I think it's unmanly and beneath a decent Aussie bloke to act this way.” So is what you did, Mark. I know you’ve copped a lot of unfair flak and I know you have a fondness for hyperbole, but you’re better than this. Surely you don’t have to be so undignified. Let it go.