Latham’s Christmas Gift: a ticking time-bomb

Second subscriber email November 24


“Is
Mark Latham’s leadership doomed?” we asked on October 19 when Lindsay
Tanner became the sixth Labor frontbencher to quit and head to the
backbench.

It took a month, but today TheBulletin has got
hold of the story, with the mag’s Canberra correspondent Paul Daley
speculating on a leadership spill early next year, if not before
Christmas.

The very cautious Louise Yaxley took the story of dissent within the ranks and ran with it on AM this morning, so we can assume it has legs – read the transcript here.

If Latham does suffer a pre-Christmas spill, who will stand? As we wrote a month back:

“With
a solid first XI staring at him from the backbench, waiting for him to
slip and offering him the kind of “support” he gave Kim Beazley, Mark
Latham’s leadership is facing its toughest – and potentially a terminal
– test.

“The names of alternative leaders are now being openly canvassed in
Labor ranks. Bob Carr, Kim Beazley, Kevin Rudd (OK, that’s just Kevin
and his mates). Even Peter Beattie’s name has been mentioned.”

Well,
four weeks later and we can count out Carr and Beattie, who are
discovering that running a large state holds challenges of its own. In
Carr’s case, it’s getting the trains to run on time, as part of a wider
infrastructure meltdown. While Beattie is in serious trouble over a
railway line and the man from Energex who threw himself in front of it.

Which leaves Beazley and Rudd. The Bully’s Paul Daley
alluded to Beazley’s health problems in his report, and word from our
medical expert, Dr Strangelove, is that Big Kim’s troubles with the
debilitating Schaltenbrand’s Syndrome are a long way from over. He
reports:

“Beazley’s doctors are telling him he has not fully recovered yet, and
have advised him to avoid travel on pressurized aircraft for the next
12 months: ie: a standard jet which flies him from Perth to Parliament
and back.”

No wonder Beazley returned to the backbench after the election. He
would appear to be incapable of fulfilling a frontbencher’s role, let
alone that of an Oposition Leader. On health grounds alone, he is out
of the race for Latham’s job, at least until 2006.

Which leaves Kevin Rudd. Despite being a thinker with an economics
background (a former head of the Queensland Cabinet office), who’s done
over Alexander Downer on a range of issues (and won over many latte
votes in the process), he remains unpopular in the party room.

Apparently there are jealous types who resent his relentles efforts at
self-promotion. Well hello, hello. Isn’t that what politicians do?

But there is a silver lining for Rudd. Ultimately, the Labor party room
will decide who leads the ALP based on that sublime Darwinian
instrument of preservation: self-interest.

Never mind the prospects of winning the election in 2007 or 2010. If
MPs think that Kevin Rudd is better placed to shore up support in the
electorate – and keep them in their jobs until they’re at least
eligible for a lifetime pension – they will switch horses in an
instant. Not pausing to thank Latham for the thrilling roller-coaster
ride of the past 10 months.

Mark Latham knows all about loyalty in politics. There is none. And if
he doesn’t snap out of his latest moody funk, he’ll be reminded of this
brutally, sooner rather than later.

Latham’s job market – caveat emptor
First subscriber email November 24

Former Labor hack Hugo Kelly writes from the press gallery:

Anyone who read Saturday’s Fin Review
would have seen the 11 jobs advertised for staffers to Federal Labor
frontbenchers. Two of them, in Mark Latham’s office, seem particularly
thankless tasks.

Latham needs a senior economic adviser
and a speechwriter (both in the $87,000-$97,000 bracket). Presumably,
given his “My way or the Highway” management style, Latham will
probably largely ignore advice from the lucky pair who snare those
jobs.

Latham prides himself in writing his own speeches. And – let’s face it – he’s written the book on economics. Several of them.

And then there’s the matter of his
management technique, and the influence of his kitchen cabinet coterie.
This is the assessment by an anonymous Labor operative of Latham’s
consultative skills quoted by Paul Daley and Tony Wright in The Bulletin this month:

“He is an absolute bloody loner and a
complete narcissist and he doesn’t trust anyone and he will not make a
concession to any adviser because it puts him in a subordinate
position.”

And that was the kindly assessment. How about this:

“He just cannot, will not, take advice…I realised I’d never had a
meaningful human discussion with him about anything and I started to
wonder if it was me. Then I realsed that just about everyone else
around him was the same.”

So much for the leader. The other jobs advertised in The AFR
may be less dangerous. Advisors are sought for deputy leader Jenny
Macklin, new Senate Leader Chris Evans, Stephen Smith, Robert
McClelland, new Enviromment spokesman Anthony Albanese (and, no, Dick
Adams, you can’t apply), Kim Carr and Penny Wong.

But the really tough one to fill will
be an adviser to shadow Immigration minister, Laurie Ferguson. The pay?
$65,000. Is that really enough to advise a man Mark Latham in his
druthers called “one of the great embarrassments”?

Here is a reminder of what Latham thinks of Laurie:

“The only reason he is in parliament is his father had the numbers in
Granville. The only reason he is on the front bench is his brother had
the numbers on the Left.”

“If the Fergusons were listed on the
stock market it woul be under the trading name, Nepotism Inc…It is an
embarrassment to the Labor movement to think of him as a future
minister.”

Anyone interested in helping Laurie
reach the ministry – or any of the available jobs – should email
Latham’s new Chief of Staff, George Thompson on [email protected].

Feeling crazybrave? CC a copy of your CV to [email protected]. Confidentiality assured. Crikey’s famous discretion will naturally apply.

Laboring in vain?
Subscriber email November 23

Our man in the press gallery, Hugo Kelly, reports on the ALP’s latest Labor pains:

Pausing only to pose for a quick
meeeja picfac, the 34 members of Labor’s National Executive bunkered
down at ALP HQ this afternoon to sort through the mess that was
Election ’04, and plot a path for the future.

Centenary House – the house the Labor rental rort built – is an appropriate venue for a federal party in disarray.

  • The executive is currently hearing reports from key figures including:
  • national secretary Tim Gartrell’s overview;
  • Robert Ray on polling;
  • former national secretary Geoff Walsh on media strategy;
  • NSW Industrial Relations Minister John Della Bosca on the advertising strategy;
  • And former Queensland party official Cameron Milner and independent media analyst Steve Wright on the advertising buy.

Check out the agenda here: http://www.alp.org.au/action/electionresult.php

One
really interesting part will be the section devoted to: “Policy and
thematics – the development, timing and content of policy
announcements. The use of those announcements to build themes and
messages.”

No doubt some of the 50 submissions
received by the party will question why Labor failed to tackle some of
the Howard Government’s weeping sores during the campaign. The failure
to deal with the interest rates scare campaign has been well and truly
highlighted. But what about another everyday staple, petrol prices?

As prices at the bowser soared well
over $1 a litre, it was bizarre that Labor didn’t hammer the fact home
to voters. And it wouldn’t have been too hard. An ad featuring a cash
register, reminding voters how much extra they were paying at the pump
under the Coalition, perhaps?

Or maybe even a return of John
Singleton’s infamous “Whingeing Wendy”? She would have made a splash,
and that’s what the Labor campaign lacked – impact.

Something. Anything. But instead of
spotlighting the effect of spiralling petrol prices on the hip-pocket
nerve, we got a silly advertising blitz highlighting the Coalition’s
competent money manager, Peter Costello.

Can Labor learn its lessons? For a
start, today’s meeting will have to end in a little less confusion than
did Friday’s caucus debriefing. Getting the facts straight about what
the meeting decided would be helpful.