How Crikey’s writers saw things on the day after Iron Mark’s announcement.

Some friendly advice to Caucus
Political correspondent Christian Kerr writes:

Very few people vote Liberal because of John Howard’s sheer personal magnetism. Sorry.

The reason he keeps winning elections is that he manages to convince enough of the people who count that they’re better off under him. He uses something called policy. Remember that? It’s why you elected Mark Latham leader in the first place.

Now I know this isn’t what you want to hear right now, but success in politics isn’t just a matter of personalities. It’s also about ideas.

Mark Latham had some crackers as a backbencher. Indeed, your fellow social democratic parties around the world have had some great ones since, oh, the end of the eighties boom and the fall of Berlin Wall.

There just seems to be a small problem. The closer you come to being in a position where you can put them into power, the shakier your commitment to these ideas suddenly becomes.

Take Latham, for example. Brilliant ideas on the backbench. A couple of well judged – if a little unilateral – interventions as shadow treasurer, too. But what he did produce as opposition leader come campaign time? Medicare Gold. Sheer bloody brilliance. Free, immediate health care for the over 75s and stuff anyone younger or sicker. A health system based on age rather than, er, health needs.

Now, I know I’m a jaded ex Lib, but I have a slight suspicion about you lot that I’d swear is true. You social democratic parties know that a globalised market economy is the best guarantee of prosperity that we have, because you’re, well, social and democratic.

Again, because you’re social and democratic you’ve also been good at identifying community concerns with our contemporary polities and economies.

Not all of your people get it. In their heart of hearts, some of your lot still believe that socialism didn’t work because it was never really tried.

And back in the bad old days, your parties developed massive constituencies with a welfare mentality. Public sector unions are the worst example of this, but there are far more insidious examples like the poverty industry that has restrained so much of the welfare reform that your sharper minds know is needed.

Until you’ve reconciled these issues, you’re not going to be convincing – no matter who your leader is. Indeed, you’ll only waste them if they’ve got half an idea of what’s going on – just like Mark Latham did.

Sorry. Again.

The first test of Beazley’s ticker

By Charles Richardson

Kim Beazley has promised he’ll be making “no deals” in his bid to return to the leadership. He needs to be unencumbered, with a broad consensus behind him, if he’s going to make a success out of his unlikely comeback.

A good first test of that support, and of Beazley’s own determination to do what needs to be done, will be whether he insists upon a change in the deputy leadership.

Labor insiders privately admit, with a rare unanimity, that Jenny Macklin has been a complete dud in the deputy’s position. She won and retained the position by a factional power-play of the sort that ignores questions of talent; her public profile is essentially non-existent and she has failed to add value to a party that desperately needs it.

Beazley has the opportunity to make a fresh start. There is no shortage of candidates: any of Rudd, Gillard, Tanner, Smith and probably others would be an immediate and obvious improvement.

The problem is not, as some commentators have it, that Macklin is not herself seen as a leadership contender. Lack of further ambition can be an advantage, not a handicap, for a deputy, as it was for Philip Lynch as deputy Liberal Leader in the 1970s – he was a unifying force at a time of often bitter internal conflict.

But Lynch was respected as a player in his own right, in a way that Macklin is not. While she would probably be a perfectly adequate middle-ranking minister, all the evidence is that she is just not up to a spot in the leadership group.

Latham wanted to make the change when he first became leader, but the numbers weren’t there: having won himself by the narrowest of margins, he didn’t have the standing to insist on a deputy he could support. If Beazley isn’t able to make the change now, any claim he has to broad support will look pretty hollow.

The question is, does he have the ticker to push for it?

Latham gives a final two-fingered salute to Bob Carr

By Boilermaker Bill McKell

While Mark Latham’s departure as leader was inevitable, his intention to vacate the seat of Werriwa immediately has all the hallmarks of Laurie Brereton’s decision not to run for Kingsford-Smith at the last election: a big “up yours” to the ALP, with the effect of disadvantaging one man: Bob Carr.

Each was once close to Carr but have subsequently fallen out: Brereton’s feelings have their roots in the treatment of his sister, Deirdre Grusovin, who was dropped from the shadow Cabinet in 1994 and then dumped from the seat of Heffron in 2002 to make way for a younger woman. Latham and Carr grew apart after Latham unsuccessfully sought Carr’s assistance in the pre-selection for the state seat for Liverpool. While he had returned to Carr’s staff later, the 2003 publication of extracts from Carr’s diaries, depicting Latham sobbing on losing the preselection, served to estrange the two men further.

By controlling the timing of his departure to the benefit of Peter Garrett, Brereton seemingly put paid to any ambitions Carr had using for Kingsford-Smith as his vehicle to the Labor leadership in Canberra. By announcing his intention to leave Parliament, Latham has given Carr the last thing he would have wanted: a by-election in Liverpool.

For Carr, an imminent by-election in Werriwa comes at the worst possible time and in the worst possible location. Just about every crisis and fiasco facing the NSW Government has its proxy in Liverpool and Campbelltown – the anchors at either end of the Werriwa electorate. The shambles that is the commuter rail system. The crisis in public health delivery with bed shortages, “code reds” where ambulances have been turned away from the emergency ward at Liverpool, and the shortcomings in patient care exampled at Campbelltown Hospital. And, perhaps most dangerously for Carr, Orange Grove isn’t just a fiasco – it’s local.

And if all that were not enough, Latham’s sudden exit means that there is no likely successor for Werriwa waiting in the wings. This promises a factional free for all – where the ranks of the local branches have been left swollen and bloated by years of stacking. Fairfield and Liverpool are basically made up of a series of rotten boroughs, created in the interests of local MPs like the Left’s Paul Lynch and the Right’s Joe Tripodi. Who knows how that lot will react if the NSW Branch pulls the preselection in to Head Office for an N40 preselection.

Can the Liberals win Werriwa? They’d need a swing of 10 percent, but if they run a de facto plebiscite on the standing of the Carr Government, with promises of federal funds for health, roads and transport, they might just have a chance. Make no mistake: Latham’s departure might help Federal Labor’s fortunes, but it will do nothing at all for Carr’s currrent woes and worries.