Crikey’s political editor has some sound advice for Mark Latham if he wants to end his horror stretch.

Let’s get in and say it early. Parliament resumes on Tuesday for what will be the worst week of Mark Latham’s political life. It was OK if he just stood there looking like a fish on dry land the week he lost the election. He had a certain amount of slack then. Next week it’s going to be different. If his mouth moves, words will have to come out. Some pretty good words, too.

He has squandered goodwill with the party and the Gallery since. He’ll face intense pressure to perform – politically and personally. Next week is going to be Rodentism rampant – and the Treasurer will want a look in, too. God knows what sharp little one-liners his crew are beavering away on.

At least the Labor leader has been given a prime example of what not to do by his National Secretary, Tim Gartrell. Gartrell fronted up to the National Press Club on Wednesday with what read like a note from Mum about Labor’s campaign.

The ALP’s failure to counter an “undeniably effective… potent scare campaign rivalling Tampa” on interest rates from the Government was the main cause of its defeat, he said. Well, d’oh!

“This led to a victory of old politics, negative campaigning and pork-barrelling over the notion that you can break through from Opposition with an overwhelmingly positive agenda…

“Our mistake was to rely too much on a wait-and-see attitude, to wait too long for the campaign dynamics to unfold. We’ve learnt the hard way that you have to fight every lie, deal with every weakness as early and as often as it takes.

“As it was once famously put: ‘Leave no shot unanswered’…”

But why not fire the shots off first? From its very earliest ad, the Government talked about eight years of economic growth. These are just eight of 13 years of economic growth. The Government ignored the fact that the foundations of these, the first five, were laid by Labor. So, oddly enough, did the ALP.

When Gartrell was giving his address in Canberra, Paul Keating was launching a book in Sydney. He gave a vintage account of Labor’s proud record of economic reform in the eighties and early nineties.

“When the government I led abandoned general centralised wage fixing … productivity went off,” he said. “Productivity went to 3 per cent through the 90s, the highest rate of any of the OECD countries.”

There was no shyness from PJK. This productivity reform lead, he told his audience, to a 20 per cent increase in incomes – “the highest growth in real incomes in any decade of the 20th century.”

“You can’t believe that we still have critics for this policy,” Keating rightly said.

“I used to say to some of my colleagues in the current Opposition who wanted to go back to sort of centralised wage fixing ‘why don’t you tell people [they] have got a 20 per cent real increase in incomes?’

“Oh yes, but that’s not their perception [they said]. Well it’s handy to let them know. And it’s not a bad reason for the policy.”

Keating made it very clear how Labor has been able to deliver sound economic policy that provided tangible benefits for ordinary Australians.

“You can buy a reasonable quality small car for under $15,000 today. Before tariff reduction] that would have been nearer to $30,000,” he said.

He then challenged the critics: “One has to ask, will people have better values and be better put together if their car costs twice as much? Is that extra call on their disposable income going to produce some astringent moral effect on them?”

Compare and contrast with Gartrell’s timorous effort. A Napoleon complex may have turned Treasurer Keating into Captain Whacky – but one maxim from the French Revolution guaranteed his economic reputation. “De l’audace, et encore de l’audace, et toujours de l’audace.”

It’s all a question of balance. Mark Latham, take note.

How Latham could blindside the government over Telstra

From the November 14 sealed section

In Harlem, in the 1950s, pseudo-voodoo shops used to sell something called the Lucky Whammy Hand Charm. “Confuses and Baffles Enemies,” the packaging used to say.

Mark Latham might want to get one before tomorrow’s Question Time – but in case they’re no longer being made, we’ve got something he can try.

Latham is at his best when he springs surprises on the Government. Think of the way he shamed John Howard into action over MPs super – and the way he finessed the FTA. That was a product of an 11:00 pm Monday night brainstorm as he pondered the looming party room meeting.

So think how Latham would immediately split the Libs from the Agrarian Socialist Party – and give dose of the collywobbles to some of the more backward Liberal MPs – if he got up tomorrow and announced that the ALP is going to support the sale of Telstra.

It’s not that radical. Privatisation began under the ALP – under a Left Administrative Services Minister, Stewart West, while Bob Hawke was PM. The big-ticket privatisations – Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank – were Keating’s babies.

Privatising telcos ain’t nuttin’ to be scared off, neither. Even that old fraud Fidel Castro had moved on the matter before we did. Telstra’s current half-pregnant position is ridiculous.

The former ACCC boss Alan Fels and veteran Canberra correspondent Fred Brenchley spelt out in Fin in the days following the election win how the sale of the rest of Telstra could be done in a way that would generate more competition, too. Latham could take that as a basis, add a decent infrastructure and environment program to invest some of the dividends in – and he’d have caught the Government flat footed.

Labor has fought and lost four elections on the pledge to save Telstra – but the people who will be most affected are non-urban voters who turn out in droves for the Coalition.

This week is supposed to be John Howard’s moment of glory – but it’s in Labor’s power to make the Prime Minister squirm, the Liberals shift uneasily and the Nats go nuts. It’s in Labor’s power to split the Coalition and get government backbenchers – and even a few parliamentary secretaries – threatening to cross the floor in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Of course this would require the ALP to be half smart and moderately competent – but desperate times call for desperate measures. Right, Mark?