Pulau Sibu, Friday: We can just catch the faint crackle of AM
here in the Malaysian tropics against the waves splashing on the beach
by cranking up the wireless gramophone under the coconut palm. But when
we heard Catherine McGrath yesterday declaring the Latham book would be extremely damaging, we almost choked on our mango daiquiri.

Surely AM’s
political correspondent has been around long enough to grasp this key
tenet of political analysis: look at everything in terms of the
political cycle. And, in this case, the cycle is in its first
trimester.

OK, so News Ltd and Latham’s publishers are pushing
the hype to the limit, and the Latham spleen is a wonderous force to
behold. But when you examine what we’ve seen of the content – where’s
the real, lasting damage? Where’s the smoking gun that destroys
Beazley’s image?

Who out there in the electorate cares about
Robert Ray, or Kevin Rudd, or Wayne Swan, or Tim Gartrell – who he? –
and what they did to destroy the career of this strange and unbalanced
character who, we might remember, failed abysmally at the last election
to convince Mr and Mrs Moonee Ponds that he was a viable alternative
Prime Minister.

From time to time journalists and the media in
general – yours truly included – pay far too much attention to the
minutiae of party infighting. It only becomes important when it
destabilises an incumbent leader. And that’s what could happen next
year – but to the Libs, not to Labor, who will shrug off this brouhaha.

What will happen is that Latham will get his headlines, but in
relatively quick time it will all have swung around and people will
say: who’s this lunatic who claims HE was right on everything, and
everyone else – Beazley et al, Keating, Whitlam, the press gallery,
maybe even the pope – was wrong.

From what we’ve read so far,
this book is way over the top. It’s too outrageous, too personal and
unbalanced, too hysterical – a bit like its author. And people who
understand politics know this. It has none of the authority, or
intellect, or style of the Crossman Diaries
in the UK which James Callaghan tried to ban because they showed the
real inner workings of a Government, not just a struggling opposition
party.

Even Neal Blewett’s
diaries of a cabinet minister were probably more substantial. In
effect, Latham’s book is written for the tabloids and for television.
It is also, crucially, at the wrong time in the political cycle to do
any real damage. In fact, it will probably have the opposite effect by
rallying Labor’s troops behind the Bomber. What other choice do they
have?

Sure, Costello and Howard and Abbott will have their
fun. But where is the real problem in politics at the moment? On the
other side, and come 2006, the worm will have turned and Latham will be
lonely and unemployable.

Peter Fray

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