In the lead up to the ALP National Conference Latham has made a
concerted effort to present a family friendly image, which will appeal
to women voters, with a bit of help from the Sunday Life magazine and
the Women’s Weekly.

Mrs Latham comes up smelling as roses

The Labor spinners will be very pleased with the run the second Mrs
Latham, Janine Lacy, got on the cover of Fairfax’s NSW and Victorian
Sunday Life magazine inserts on Sunday.

The article was written by Andrew West, the former Labor staffer who
turned around and wrote the book on Bob Carr last year. He interviewed
Lacy at home in western Sydney with only a Latham minder and the kids
present.

Whilst it was certainly positive, West did manage to add plenty of
details about the union to the public knowledge. If you missed the
article, these are some of the key points.

The second Mrs Latham may have worked for a Coalition MP, WA Liberal
backbencher Ricky Johnson, but she’s now spinning the line that it was
just a job and “it could just as well have been a Labor MP”.

They met at La Grange in Manuka when Parliament was sitting in 1997.
Latham was still married to the vengeful Gabrielle Gwyther at the time
but nothing happened till early 1998 when Iron Mark had moved out.

While Latham is a proud Westie, Lacy was living in Neutral Bay when
they started dating, just around the corner from Kirribilli House and
in Joe Hockey’ seat of North Sydney, which borders the PM’s seat of
Bennelong.

So here you have a middle class girl from Fremantle who worked for a
Liberal MP and then got into PR in Sydney and lived on the North Shore
– about 50 clicks from Latham’s beloved Campbelltown – marrying a
devoted Westie and junkie of Labor history.

It certainly is an unlikely union and hard to believe she could become
the youngest ever spousal resident at The Lodge, aged just 33 by the
time we next go to the polls.

Latham proposed on New Years Eve in 1999 at a restaurant in Milsons
Point and they then wondered down to take in the fireworks. “It was
very romantic.” Within weeks she was falling pregnant (no one nut jokes
please but it was first go!) just after their pre-wedding honeymoon.

It was a small wedding in Perth over Easter 2000 with just 30 in
attendance and none of Iron Mark’s family made the journey due to the
expense. Sunday Life were supplied a nice wedding pic of the newly
married couple under a tree.

If the alternative First Couple can back this sort of coverage up with
a good run in the February edition of Women’s Weekly, due out this week
with the Latham family profile a chance for the cover, then it will
round out a pretty good two month honeymoon for the new Labor leader.

John Howard felt obliged to follow Iron Mark into the ABC commentary
box for the Sydney Test but somehow we doubt Janette Howard will be
granting interviews any time soon.

And it will be interesting to see if the News Ltd Sunday tabloids get
vengeful for missing this exclusive and try for a damaging profile of
the first Mrs Latham reacting to this substantial public outing by her
successor.

Meanwhile, Crikey contributor Chris Saliba has taken the trouble to buy
and read all six books written by Iron Mark over the years and has
provided an excellent Dummies Guide to Latham.

We trust all the chief political reporters have been doing likewise
over their extended holidays. Laurie Oakes does six days a week during
the year so you can’t begrudge him a holiday but we did miss his column
in last week’s Bulletin.

The first Laurie vs Iron Mark interview on the Sunday program, when it finally comes back on air, will be worth the wait.

Iron Mark’s Women’s Weekly triumph

The latest edition of the Women’s Weekly is out and while the Latham
family was passed over for the front cover in preference of Fergie,
Mark and Janine Latham should be very pleased with the Weekly’s story.

The Latham profile was entrusted to veteran newspaper and magazine
journalist Jo Wiles, who visited the Lathams at their Glen Alpine home
in the south-west suburbs of Sydney and found a very close, happy and
idealistic young family.

Interwoven with the poor-boy-makes-good story of Mark’s upbringing, the
profile provides just the right sort of antidote to the Larrikin-Latham
image, which doesn’t play well with women voters.

The Weekly presents a new side of Latham, one in which he is surrounded
by women, three sisters, mum and wife Janine and where he declares his
determination not to be “an absentee dad” to his two little boys.

This soft and caring image of Latham is perpetuated by his sister Jody
who says, “when we grew up in Green Valley, our sisters couldn’t wait
to get out of it, but Mark has stayed.  From a young age he could
see the injustice in society and he wanted to do something about
it.  I’ve always admired the fact that Mark stayed and tried to
make a difference.”

And yet the idealistic Latham plays down this altruistic vision,
claiming a more pragmatic motive, “our big thing was to get a good
education, good jobs and become home owners rather than renting.”

While the reader is drawn into the world of the loving Latham family,
there is still some room for some politics and Latham says, “I set two
rules or benchmarks for myself the day I got the job (of leader). 
One was to be a positive as possible … and the other was no
crudity.  I think you can have some larrikin language and be
yourself, and do things differently, but in this role I need to be able
to relate to 100 per cent of the Australian population, and that is why
I set that standard as well.”

Latham also talks candidly about the affect his gambling dad had on the
family and his mentor Gough Whitlam.  It almost brings a tear to
the eye when he tells Wiles, “you only have one dad, but Gough was a
father figure, an uncle-type figure in my life.”

But it is Lorraine Latham, the matriarch and Mark’s mum who has the
last word on Latham, saying, “he’s young, he cares about people. 
He loves Australia.”

So with the ALP National Conference starting tomorrow, Latham can be
content in the knowledge his new softer more family oriented image is
coming across nicely.

The Weekly profile rounds off a two month honeymoon which could end
tomorrow at 9.30am when he gives the speech pundits have been waiting
for.

Peter Fray

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