December 02, 2003


"Who is Mark Latham, and what does he stand for?" So asked Mark Latham at his first press conference as Labor leader. Letís churn up some answers:

Latham believes in free trade and an open, competitive, market economy, and promises the establishment of a "razor gang" to cut government spending. He admires Peter Costelloís 1996 budget for its fiscal discipline.

Heís also aggressively in favour of current policies on asylum seekers and thinks high-income earners deserve a tax cut. For these reasons he is resented by many on the Left. Some typical views:

"There is nothing new in Lathamís ideas. They represent a compendium of ideas drawn from a multitude of rightwing theorists both new and old."

"These policy ideas are the product of the think-tanks of the big
corporations, the OECD, the IMF and the World Bank. Mark Latham is merely applying them to Australia."

"Some Labor M.P.s think Lathamís views would be better espoused from the other side of the House."

"We are condemned to a neo-con government for the next fifty years simply because muppets like Latham are what passes for 'talent' in the 'Labor' party."

"Mark Latham is not a solution to the problem but very much part of the problem."

The unions arenít very fond of him, either. Nevertheless some on the Left have become Latham converts; Margo Kingston described him as the antithesis of the progressive vision a couple of years ago, but now believes that Latham rocks. Lefty blogger Gianna, whoíd prefer Bob Brown to be ALP leader, thinks "Latham's 'democratising capitalism' is the only intelligent way forward." John Quiggin, although heíd select six members of caucus ahead of Latham, supports the Member for Werriwa "in the hope that he'll somehow turn up trumps as leader." Tim Dunlop trashed Lathamís economic notions in a 13,000 word Webdiary screed ("the third way, as currently presented by advocates like Mark Latham, is a hodge-podge of catchphrases and buzz words that don't amount to a significant reappraisal of social democratic and leftist politics") and later dismissed him as a Tony Blair brown-noser, but enthusiastically endorsed Lathamís leadership bid.

Well, people can change. Including Latham, who recently had this to say in an email to Phil Cleary:

I've even mellowed a tad on the purity of free trade, especially the proposed agreement with the USA.

That may temper right-wing enthusiasm for Latham, currently running high at Catallaxy Files ("he understands the market economy better than some Howard government hacks") and Alan Anderson ("I only hope that his belief in free enterprise will not be stifled by the socialists in his own party").

Enough with the economics. Lathamís personality is even more polarising, as was vividly shown during the war, which Latham opposed; Iím guessing that a section of the Left whoíd previously shunned Latham embraced him at this point. He admits to being a hater ("part of the tribalness of politics is to really dislike the other side with intensity and the more I see of them the more I hate them"), supports weird causes, and is prone to clumsy abuse:

Latham has called Albrechtsen a "skanky ho' (whore)", Bush "the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory" and Howard an "arselicker".

Which impresses some ("The man is clearly crazy. I love him," wrote Gareth Parker) and revolts others -- across the political spectrum. Here's twenty-something right-winger Tex:

For all his hot air and tough-boy, blue-collar posturing, Federal Labor MP Mark Latham turns out to have a glass jaw a toddler could smash a fist through. Latham can dish it out, but he sure as hell can't take it.

And from 50-ish lefty Julie:

I am horrified to think that Mark Latham is being considered as representative of the younger generation ... he is a bully. He is not inclusive. He will neither unite the party nor draw the country with him.

"I don't think," notes CanBlog, "Australia is quite ready to vote for him yet." This may emerge as an understatement. Last week Centrebet had already pushed out the odds of a Labor election victory on the mere possibility of today's Latham win.

But why should Latham be considered more of a liability than another polarising figure -- Prime Minister John Howard, winner of the last three elections? My theory: Howardís supporters and detractors fall into two main camps. His supporters generally agree with Howardís positions on a range of issues, just as his detractors generally oppose them. Itís a clear divide. But Lathamís supporters and detractors are everywhere -- on the right, on the left, upper, middle, lower, rich, poor. Heís created a maze of faultlines and divisions, and struggles to present a coherant image. People inclined to support him on the war reject his economics. People who admire his economics loathe his personality. He is a target-rich environment:

This is what Mr Latham had to say about the GST back in December of 1998, when he was taking a break from the front bench: "If it is ever introduced, such an unnecessary, unfair, discriminatory and job-destroying tax will need to be repealed. That strikes me as self-evident, particularly from a party of social justice . . . We are here to replace bad taxes with better taxes. We are here to replace unfair taxes with fairer taxes. This is why Labor exists."

So heís going to repeal the GST? Go for it, Mark. To conclude, predictions from Ken Parish and former ALP member Caz:

"I hope I'm wrong, but I reckon this decision could well end up giving the conservatives a landslide victory of such monumental proportions that they'll be in government for the next decade."

"I am advocating the Member for Werriwa records a track called 'Nutbag City Limits' because thats where I predict the ALP will be heading in the next 12 months."

UPDATE. Here are some of those faultlines and divisions I was talking about. And government ministers are already lining up to target Lathamís weaknesses ...

Posted by Tim Blair at December 2, 2003 01:17 PM

The Chinese have an old saying which may be applicable to this situation,"May you live in interesting times"...

2004 is going to be a pretty full on year by the looks of things. That saying could apply equally well to the world today in general.

Posted by: gaz at December 2, 2003 at 01:45 PM

Quiggin has two Is and no A.

Posted by: Robert at December 2, 2003 at 02:01 PM

I watched the press conference live. Latham managed to use the words "climbing the ladder of opportunity" at least six times in the first minute and a half, and the words "hard work" just as many times. He obviously thinks that repetitiveness is his job. His job is repetitiveness - that's what he obviously thinks. He belivieves in climbing the ladder of opportunity and hard work. He believes it's his job to be repetitive.

Posted by: Jorge at December 2, 2003 at 02:12 PM

Thanks for that Tim. Dunno much about the bloke other than he like his wogs arms broken and livin' under dictators.

Posted by: W at December 2, 2003 at 02:15 PM

It's official, the ALP has switched off its guidance system, suspended any pretence at coherent policy, thrown away the map, abandoned any sense of moving forward together, jettisoned all its philosophical basis and ...

elected Mark Latham by a wafer thin margin ...

(if two people had voted differently, Bomber Beazley would have been in the pilot's seat - again).

But they elected Iron Mark who appears already to be all things to all people or nothing to anyone. Free market libertarian one minute - socialist regulator the next.

But then again, what a perfect choice for leader of a party which does not know what it stands for - a leader who also doesn't seem to know.

Hang on folks, it's going to be a wild ride!


Posted by: The_GOP_Elephant at December 2, 2003 at 02:20 PM


I believe that there is a connection between the conflicting and diverse policy positions enunciated by Latham and the gradually disintegrating security and polity situation in Iraq.

Both are baffling and incomprehensible, shifting realities, seemingly spewed out by a post-modern nonsense generator.

In short, I believe that the common origin of the Latham and Iraq puzzles is that they are both channelling Margo, Margo.

Posted by: Jack Strocchi at December 2, 2003 at 02:22 PM

Why do I always misspell the Prof's name? It's a damn mental block, is what it is.

I'll try it your way ... two Is and no A.


Posted by: tim at December 2, 2003 at 02:34 PM


Btw, add me to the list of reluctant lefty Lathamites.

And I have a post about the PC idiots at UVa that you might find interestingly. </gratuitous plug>

Posted by: Robert at December 2, 2003 at 02:38 PM

Here comes the Train Wreck we had to have.

Posted by: Gilly at December 2, 2003 at 02:39 PM

Bah -- interesting. And just after I'd criticised your typo...

Posted by: Robert at December 2, 2003 at 02:39 PM

Kimbo has really fucked himself over this time. He really only did have one last shot in the locker this time and he should have kept his powder dry. Kimbo should have let Rudd go against Latham and then whoever one will get toasted next election and Kim could then step up to the plate to contest against Costello/Abbott. Stupid bugger, but then as a RWDB I don't give a flying fuck.

Posted by: Razor at December 2, 2003 at 02:50 PM

At the ALP webpage its got a photo of Simon Crean with the caption "Mark Latham Leader of the Australian Labor Party"

Posted by: Mike Hunt at December 2, 2003 at 03:20 PM

I think we can surmise that everytime Mark repeats himself - it is because he had the urge to put some profanity there. The curbing of natural desires plays havoc with ones composure, expect some classic repetitions coming up. I can imagine his replying to John Howard at question time - some people will think that he has developed a stutter....

Posted by: Rob at December 2, 2003 at 03:50 PM

Just like his approach to economic policy, it seems like Latham can't even make up his mind about Albrechtsen. He called her a "skanky ho" (apparently a bad thing), but "hoes" are celebrated in song at his old school:

Hurrah, hurrah for the plough and the harrow and the hoe.

Hurrah, hurrah for the wheat in the waving row.

And when we're out upon our own

The good results will show

What we have learned at dear old Hurlstone.

Perhaps the first line should read:

Hurrah, hurrah for the plough and the harrow and the skanky ho'.

Posted by: Alex Robson at December 2, 2003 at 04:08 PM

you'd have to leave out 'and the harrow' or it wouldn't scan right

Posted by: ilibcc at December 2, 2003 at 04:23 PM


that isn't an old Chinese saying.

However, it is often attributed as such.

Posted by: Big Ramifications at December 2, 2003 at 05:50 PM

I guess Latham is the obvious Gen X foillow-up to Paul Keating, who was not shy with the coarse jest or insult.

Is he trying to be the Ocker version of Tony Blair, who I presume would be considered a bit of a poof by the Aussie centre-left.?

Who was that comedian in Neighbours who always plays the hardarse diamond-in-the-rough lefty? Mark someone? It sounds a lot like him without good jokes.

They have had some goodies. I still have a soft spot for that old sod Bob Hawke.

Posted by: Dave F at December 2, 2003 at 06:43 PM

Tim: It was actually on the CNN tonight (last night, whatever). I can't remember which CNN ... probably the one that always cuts to the London studio when the Atlanta newsreaders' heroin supply runs out. Anyway, it seemed fairly balanced about Howard dealing with whoever this guy is, and the "parties" of some kind, and the ... do you have a King down there? I guess I'm not sure. A sort of Pope / King situation? Basically, I'm wondering if you have a sort of monarch who is the clone of a queen or a pope, or some combination because of the different climate? Anyway, good to see your deal on the teevee! Now, those robot animals you've got down there, they are forces of good, or is it evil? There's the one with the duck on the face of the midget, right? And that one is considered "good," far as I recall .... and there's a Congress of some kind, but it is all conducted under water, is that correct? Man, I just can't get a handle on this right now. But when the CNN newsreader handed the story over to someone named "Margo," I nearly jumped out the window. And, as you know, I live in a one-story house.

Posted by: Ken Layne at December 2, 2003 at 06:45 PM


Posted by: gaz at December 2, 2003 at 06:53 PM

And government ministers are already lining up to target Lathamís weaknesses ...

You're right Tim. His support for Nelsonesque university policies was a weakness. But now he's seen sense. Will the Government?

Posted by: Robert at December 2, 2003 at 08:48 PM

Could you imagine the backlash if Howard said something like this.

Contrary to the rhetoric of Left-wing politics, poor people have little faith in the role of government. They already live in the equivalent of socialist suburbs, with 90% of the income and assets owned by government. Unhappily, this is a sign of their poverty rather than a solution to it. The hatred of the bureaucratic failings of the Department of Housing, Social Security and the Child Support Agency is palpable. The organisations with the greatest public support lie outside the public sector. Non-government agencies such as St Vincent de Paul and Anglicare are well respected for their pastoral role. Based on the evidence, more resources of this kind need to be mobilised. Government-first welfare strategies are a recipe for failure.

Blog entry on Mark Latham's Myths about the Welfare State

Posted by: hast at December 2, 2003 at 10:48 PM

Where did you turn up that lathamrocks website? I mean, what kind of braincells must a man have to even try looking for such a thing? Great stuff.

Posted by: Berend de Boer at December 3, 2003 at 04:40 AM

Latham repeated himself so that the 3 second grab on shitty commercial TV would be almost obliged to show it.
It's the nature of modern politics- give 'em a 3 second grab, or don't say anything at all.
I though Lato came across better than ever before- but you HAD to hear the whole speech I guess.

Posted by: Mr Pants at December 3, 2003 at 12:49 PM


Latham "struggles to present a coherant image"? Come now, if you're just going to run costello's spin as an excuse for an argument, at least own up to it.

Posted by: Miranda Divide at December 4, 2003 at 11:03 AM

"Muck Latham" is what would be my choice for someone who defacates from more than onE orifice,the contents of which surround him in the sewer and it is there he is most profo9und. I would be ashamed to have him represent me in the Parliament of AustraliaIa. If English is his mother tongue and politics his profession and tools of trade are WORDS I say, "Use them to earn your name MARK LATHAM lift your head up high and lift your speech above the level of the pelvis and lift your audience out of the sewer into which you dragged them.Respect and honour your audience with eloquence if you want them to ACT on your suggestions, your theories. LOOK UP TO THEM AND NOT DOWN AT THEM. YOU WILL RIDE THE WHITE HOIRSE" I challenge you to make the change for your own salvaion. HAVE A MERRY CHRISTMAS

Posted by: winston at December 5, 2003 at 12:56 AM

This Mark Latham cat is giving me bad press. I am the real Mark Latham and I don't do politics. Thanks for the plug down under...

Mark Latham

Posted by: Mark Latham at December 5, 2003 at 04:43 PM