Former Labor Health Minister Neal Blewett has broken ranks with ALP insiders to sing the praises of The Latham Diaries in this month’s Australian Book Review:

The Latham Diaries is the most important book yet
published on Labor’s wilderness years. It provides a pungent
characterisation of Labor’s post-1996 history; conveys a profound
understanding of the challenges facing a social democratic party in
contemporary Australia; and its damning account of Labor’s feuds,
machinations and toxic culture suggests why the party is incapable of
meeting those challenges. It is also the most rancorous and at times
rancid memoir ever penned by an Australian politician. For someone so
sensitive to invasions of his own privacy, Latham throws around
personal slurs and innuendoes with much abandon. Yet his effective use
of a larrikin argot lends the book a gritty authenticity rare in such
writing. Much black humour and some telling stories move the book along
with a compelling pace until it is finally overwhelmed by self-pity,
blustering defiance and denial.

The diaries are not a set of
regular daily entries but rather occasional jottings that appear to
have undergone a degree of stylistic polishing … Some report the
events of a single day; others cover a week or more. There are also
hints throughout the diary of a greater degree of retrospectivity.
Diaries are by definition self-centred, but these are fiercely
solipsistic. Scarcely anything is recorded unless it impinges directly
on Mark Latham. He seems to have had no reaction to September 11 or to
the Bali bombings of 2002, explaining the former omission on the
grounds that”‘there was nothing I could usefully add to the blanket
coverage provided by the US media conglomerates.” Surely this is beside
the point: immediate reactions to such traumatic events provide
important clues to understanding politicians and their policies.

Having
approved of the book – if not for its rancorous tone, then for the
importance of the arguments it raises – how does Blewett feel about
being out of step with his ALP colleagues who’ve closed ranks on
Latham? It’s hard to say, he told Crikey today, because he’s no longer
“part of the Caucus in that way,” but lives a quiet retired life
“devoted to reading” (and gardening too, he hastens to add). Blewett
claims to be “in a different position from people who are still very
active in politics.”

But he does know a little something of
political memoirs, having himself penned a controversial diary-based
account of the Hawke-Keating cabinet meetings: A Cabinet Diary (1999).
Blewett does say he’s surprised that Latham was able to keep a diary at
all. It’s unusual for someone at the forefront of politics to keep
up-to-date with their diary writing, especially at the height of an
election campaign – that’s why most of the major political diaries have
been written by people of the second rank, he says.

It also might explain why might explain why a considerable part of the Diaries reads as if it was written in retrospect and has since undergone “stylistic polishing.”