“Everything Mark Latham has done since losing last year’s federal election has vindicated the electorate’s decision to reject him,” writes Peter Hartcher in The Sydney Morning Herald this morning “Now he has again given aid and comfort to John Howard by petulantly and vindictively disparaging the party that trusted him with its highest office…”

Virtually every other report on the launch of Bernie Lagan’s book, The Loner, says something similar. Latham is slammed for his claim that Labor is “beyond repair, beyond reform.” Hartcher says: “Latham’s cat’s-paw scratch at Kim Beazley – ‘Labor got the leader it truly deserves, a conservative, stand-for-nothing type of leader’ – is especially egregious.”

The Australian Labor Party is in a tragic state – but is that Latham’s fault? Latham’s claim to the Labor leadership wasn’t based on his personality, it was based on the fact that he was a thinker in a party that hasn’t changed many of its attitudes since Stalin was a seminarian.

Latham talked about how Labor could not be a force for social reform – for social democracy – if it remained locked in its old state paternalist world-view in parliament, in his books and, best of all, in his columns in The Daily Telegraph addressing an audience of just the sort of people Labor needs to woo to win power.

The real Latham tragedy isn’t that he didn’t win the last election, it’s that he missed the opportunity when he was Labor leader, when he had the bully pulpit, to bypass the warlords and the factions and speak directly to the public about the need for a complete renovation of our political institutions.

Better to destroy the party that way than to shatter it by taking it to an election defeat with idiot policies such as Medicare Gold.

Peter Fray

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