The End of Latham

18 January 2005
SIX slogans under consideration for Kim Beazley's tilt at the ALP leadership:
1. Old sensation.
2. It's Time – No, really.
3. At least I'm not Mark Latham.
4. At least I'm not Paul Keating.
5. Kim Beazley – Third Time Lucky.
6. My eyebrows are better than John Howard's.

There's only one thing to talk about now...the Labor leadership crisis. Now, as many of you will know, I was tremendously excited about six months ago, when Labor looked quite invincible in the polls. Us Lefties felt that for the first time in nearly nine years, we were going to have a Labor government. Now, a disclaimer. I KNOW Labor is very far from perfect. Yes they take funds from "big business". Yes they still oppose gay marriage and support mandatory detention for asylum seekers. But, well, they're not the Liberals. Yes, many people are sick of Labor's indecisiveness and have switched to the Greens (pre-GST they also went for the Democrats, but I think we can agree, the Democrats are completely spent as a political force in this country). But I'm a realist. The Greens will never be able to form a government and so we shouldn't split the Left vote. What Labor and the Greens should do is agree to a range of social, environmental and economic policies in return for Greens support of Labor and limited, power-sharing concordances.

Anyway, after so many years in the political wilderness, what gave us this hope? Mark Latham. He's young. Good-looking. Charismatic. He wanted to say "Sorry". He wanted to bring the troops home. But what appealed to me the most, was that he appeared to be someone who would fight for principles, and Federal Labor has been sorely lacking that since Paul Keating was dumped. So, I at least was lured out of my agnostics cave to believe, we could win this one, last October.
Well now history shows I was wrong. I will always remember the weekend of October 9/10 2004 as one of the saddest of my life. I think I actually took it personally. Because, it seemed to me that the electorate had become so materialistic and conservative that Australia was saying "Okay...John Howard lied to us...time and time again. But hey - better that than our interest rates going up!"
And to witness Mark Latham in those days was wrenching. He looked like I felt - devastated, shell shocked. BUT, as Labor Leader he couldn't afford to feel sorry for himself, he had to get back to fighting the Coalition. And that didn't happen. Still, I can't believe it has come to this (latest from ABC news on-line):

Latham about to quit, Carr says
A senior Labor figure expects Mark Latham to quit as the federal Opposition Leader due to ill health, possibly within the next 24 hours.
New South Wales Premier Bob Carr has fuelled speculation, saying Mr Latham's recent silence means he has reached a decision to stand down.
Mr Latham has been ill due to severe pancreatitis.
Mr Carr says that if Mr Latham steps down it would be in the best interests of the Labor Party.
He reckons other Labor supporters agree.
Mr Carr is also backing a former federal leader in any leadership spill.
"Well obviously Kim Beazley is available, and he provides the Labor Party with a very obvious choice," he said.
On Southern Cross Radio, Labor frontbencher Wayne Swan also endorsed Mr Beazley.
He says the sooner Mr Latham clarifies his position the better.
Labor's foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd says the Labor Party could become a laughing stock if the crisis is not resolved immediately.
"I'm not going to say black is white and white is black and pretend our current circumstances are in anyway flash, they're not," he said.
"But what we are all needing to see is for Mark to clarify his position and what I think the national leaders of the party at the state level are trying to do is to underline the urgency of that occurring."
Tuesday, January 18, 2005. 12:15pm (AEDT)

I'm not going to speculate about what Latham should or should not have done over the last few weeks, because as much as it pains me to say it, it seems too late for that now. What I am more concerned about is Kim Beazley.

Look, I think most Australians would agree, Beazley is an obviously intelligent, compassionate human being. But do such qualities make a good Parliamentary Leader (some would argue that by definition. leaders must not be human beings at all). Small-l liberals are notorious for just giving in (witness the US Democrats cedeing the 2000 Presidential election). And the fact remains...Beazley has lost two elections. Well, sort of. You may or may not remember, but in the 1998 poll (the "GST election" also the first I voted in) Labor actually won more votes overall, but the Coalition took more seats. Anyway, the Liberals were back in. That hurt, but not too much - I was kind of idealistic at the time and anyway, everyone was sure there'd be a backlash once the GST was introduced.
Well, there was no backlash, and then of course there was the events leading up to the 2001 election...I knew there was no hope Labor would win that. Last October though...finally, I thought, John Howard has to go? Surely people have had enough of the lies and the secrecy and Costello-in-the-wings?

Sadly no.

So, I guess the real question now is, could Beazley possibly win the 2007 election? Impossible from here to say, of course. If a week is a long time in politics...well, so much could happen between now and then. One thing does stand out in my mind though. By the next election Beazley will be 60.
A best case scenario of course would be Latham saying "I'm determined to take Labor to the next poll, we will fight hard and we will prevail, and I want you all with me".
But, that seems as likely as me taking up pig shooting. Then there's the prospect of Beazley caretaking for maybe a year, until one of the younger front benchers - Rudd, Swan, Tanner, Gillard? - is deemed to have "earned their stripes" and takes over, maybe to challenge Abbott or Costello at the poll.
There are no easy answers I can see. But I hope I've given you a little to think about, and your opinions on any of this would be most welcome.

Update - 17:30
Well as soon as I published this post I walked home (5 minutes), turned on ABC news radio, and heard straight away, the news. That Latham was resigning, both as Labor Leader and as an MP.
It's a sad day.
I stayed glued to the radio, listening to the fallout and press conference. Beazley's conference did hearten me, he sounded determined and resolute, so I will put my support there. Rudd gave a press conference too, but he was vauge and refused to commit to running.


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