28 May, 2017

The Latham Diaries

I had always intended to read Barking Mark’s parliamentary diaries ever since they were first published. It wasn’t until my reading habits improved that I eventually got around to it.

At the time they came out, I actually had a lot of sympathy with Latham. I felt he had been treated unfairly, especially with the Labor Party referring disparagingly to “the Latham experiment” after he had tried to modernise the party. It wasn’t until he signed up with Channel 9 to act as a serial pest during the 2010 election that I lost all respect for him. Almost everything that has happened since has just been an embarrassment. Even so, I still wanted to read what he had to say before he went completely insane.

Much of his criticisms of the party, which go back well before his leadership, are entirely valid and remain so even now. His frustrations with machine politics are quite understandable and in some ways, ahead of their time. So too are his annoyances with a media more interested in trivia than policy.

However, the seeds of his later derangement are visible. He has much to say on the need for the Labor Party to separate itself from socially conservative unions who no longer have the numbers to swing elections. A fair point, but he also writes of his preference for the company of the knockabout Aussie larrikin – an overly blokey type of character represented by the kind of unions he was trying to break away from. Also, in choosing to out himself as the unnamed MP who told a female journalist at a drinks function that he was “going home to masturbate,” he reveals that he might not understand the distinction between being a larrikin and being a dickhead. Elsewhere, he rejects the notion that his attitude to women is a problem, and then refers to Michelle Grattan as ugly in the very next paragraph.

I couldn’t help but wonder what the Latham of 2005 would make of the Latham of 2017. Although the diaries reveal an ability to justify contradictory points of view, I still think the author of this book would be disgusted in a bloke who took Murdoch’s dollar to talk about recipes on a news channel (Broccolini, Mark? What self-respecting knockabout Aussie larrikin has even heard of broccolini?) and makes videos of himself wandering the streets of western Sydney looking for non-English speakers to humiliate. He has become one of the leading purveyors of the “downwards envy” he rightly criticised throughout his diaries.

The biggest message of the book should be what a toll party politics and being an MP takes on a doting family man. Unfortunately, his description of Bob Hawke on page 158 becomes an even more apt summation of Barking Mark himself: “A tub-thumper who degenerated into a clown.”