Modia Minotaur

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Latham: The Aftermath

It's an hour after ABC's Enough Rope aired its interview with Mark Latham and my head is still spinning. For one, it was completely unexpected - there I was, waiting for my daily dose of Lateline and - KABOOM.

KABOOM indeed.

It was a surreal experience, somehow like a long gone friend coming to you in a dream - irrevocably different, distant, half-friendly, half mocking, insightful yet inscrutable. Was I apprehensive? Of course I was. Yet I wanted Latham to speak in his own words, something he has not done in eight months. It's sometimes hard to remember that everything we have read of him since then has been coloured somehow; recontextualised. Here, we had the unvarnished, straight-from-the-horses mouth Latham version.

As I expected, I agreed with a good deal of what Latham had to say. The ALP's fortress of fiefdoms is rich for reform. Some of the people he named as out-and-out ratbags deserved the slug in the guts. Some, demonstrably, did not. Something inside me sobbed and sank when Latham said he hadn't spoken to Gough Whitlam since leaving politics. The gasp was audible when I heard Tony Abbott was the only one who sent Latham a letter of condolence when he left Parliament. And who would have thought Big Kim would steal the line of the night - the one about `Don't worry if you lose the election - at least you get to go home with Janine, Howard has to go home with Jannette'? In describing That Handshake, Latham demonstrated some of the spark and rapport with the - for want of a better term - audience, which had biographers constantly describing him in terms of reaching beyond or over Parliament and towards the ordinary people in a way that few contemporary politicians were able to do.

Denton didn't shy away. He didn't go soft on Latham. When the transcript appears (it could take some time, given the News Ltd injunction that already delayed the show by two hours), it will make fascinating reading.

There was something very sad about the interview. Denton tried to bring this out; Latham resisted. But the point he was making was correct. Here is a 44 year old man, bursting with good ideas and vision, retired in early middle age. What kind of system allowed this to happen? Latham may be dismissed as a Labor rat, but might this be shooting the messenger? What if this is a shock to the system bringing on the sort of renewal Labor badly needs?

7 Comments:

At 5:44 pm, Anonymous Guy said...

It's another classic tragic Labor story. Curtin's alcoholism. The Whitlam dismissal. And so on...

Much of what Latham has come out with in the media has been slag, but certainly Labor can not and should not ignore the event entirely. It has been a harsh lesson for the kingmakers who handed him the throne, and those within the caucus who are just as pre-occupied with intra-party skulduggery as putting together some decent policies and winning elections.

 
At 6:58 pm, Blogger Minotaur said...

James M. Burns, in his classic book `Leadership', identifies two types of leaders: transactional and transformational. Transactional leaders deal with the factional, the nuts-and-bolts - the machine. Transformational leaders are those people who inspire, start revolutions, break down old orders.

It seems that the ALP's problem is a transformational intent lurking inside a transactional structure that fosters machine men at the expense of visionaries. Thus, we end up bellowing into our beers about what our Doc Evatts and Gough Whitlams might have been, instead of what they were.

It's a sad and sorry business, but there's a certain bracing inevitability to it. I think this is something that had to happen, somehow; a scab that had to be lifted, and once the blood flows and the scar heals, we may all be better for it.

 
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