Forget all the sensational media coverage and ferocious attacks on Mark Latham, The Latham Diaries will come to be seen as the political book of the decade. It will become a phenomenon remembered for many years.

The unprecedented insight into the inner world of ALP politics and big media is sending shock waves around Canberra that will have a long-term impact. I couldn’t put it down and remain quite stunned about the picture painted of our political culture.

Whilst the ALP and Canberra press gallery are in collective uproar, not knowing whether to counter-attack, bury their heads in the sand or deal calmly with the substance of the claims, the public is lapping up the insights.

The book is selling like hot cakes and Mark Latham seems perfectly happy to deal with the brickbats from his former colleagues and numerous media critics. Of course they were going to do that after Latham unloaded on them collectively and busted open Club Canberra for the world to see.

The truth, as Mark Latham sees it, is very ugly, but he’s been making many of the same points in his diary since he first entered Federal Parliament in 1994. The Latham Diaries is not some retrospective dump that has been written over the past three months. These are diary entries over 11 years that are strikingly consistent in their scepticism about the insoluble ALP structure and some of its key personalities.

Latham himself says that his “uncut commentary” is “very raw” but this simply adds to the power that comes from being brutally honest. Sometimes the humour and observations are crude and sexist, but to focus on these entries is to ignore the political substance of what is on offer.

Latham rounds it off with an excellent 21 page essay at the beginning, setting out the reasons for his pessimism about our democracy and Labor’s decaying machine politics.

There is no doubt that Latham is playing an often cruel game of revenge and in some instances he has over-cooked the argument. Kim Beazley is clearly not an indecent and inveterate muckraker, but in my opinion the scathing attacks will be terminal for his prime ministerial ambitions because most of them are so devastatingly accurate. Latham graphically reinforces the impression that Beazley lacks ticker, flip flops on key issues and is an unreconstructed tax and spend Whitlamite.

The Howard government has been given a huge gift that will almost certainly still be featuring in their election advertising in 2007. The only possible upside for the ALP is that the book triggers some long overdue structural reform, but the vitriol makes this unlikely and most of the key pretenders to Beazley’s throne have also been savaged.

The likes of Laurie Oakes and Phillip Adams, both criticised in the diaries, are trying to dismiss Latham by attacking him and playing down the impact of his book. Alas, Morgan has just released the first poll since the contents of the book became known and there has already been a 12.5% turnaround in primary vote support, with Labor’s support down 7% to 34.5%.

Whilst many observers have attempted to make Mark Latham the story, it is the impact of his revelations that we should be focusing on. This book is a tour de force.

The polls are already moving, Beazley is heavily damaged and Latham has breached so many confidences and embarrassed so many key people that there must be numerous broken relationships and bad blood right across the ALP and sections of the media.

For all this serious stuff, The Latham Diaries also provides plenty of laughs as Latham is nothing if not a larrikin with an ability to cut through. His final major political contribution in Australia cuts to the bone of the ALP, but from a public interest perspective, it was a thoroughly worthwhile exercise.

I commend this book to the Crikey army!

Peter Fray

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