Presumably Paul Keating was unaware of the latest little mixup by Kevin Rudd’s staff when he went on Lateline last night.

Had the former Labor PM been aware that the would-be Labor PM was briefed to comment on a fictitious troop deployment to Afghanistan he would surely have used it as a devastating example of just how useless the Rudd advisers he was talking about were. As it was, Paul contented himself with some historical examples in what was a fascinating interview.

Take this general description of team Rudd:

The Labor Party is not going to profit from having these proven unsuccessful people around who are frightened of their own shadow and won’t get out of bed in the morning unless they’ve had a focus-group report to tell them which side of bed to get out. These are in my opinion no-value people. Wouldn’t fight, don’t know how to fight, much less fighting the Liberal Party.

And this specific mention for David Epstein, the man Rudd has just made his chief-of-staff, a position in which he supervises other former employees of Rudd predecessor Kim Beazley:

They’ll do him no good. Because in the end those kind of conservative tea-leaf-reading, focus-group-driven, polling types who I think led Kim into nothingness — he’s got his life to repent in leisure now at what they did to him — they’re back, they’re back.

And for Gary Gray, the former ALP federal secretary enticed by Rudd to stand as a candidate at the forthcoming election a special Keating welcome:

I used to call Gary ‘Mr Two Step’. He was always going to win in two steps. I said to Kim, ‘you will win in ’98 Kim, a Labor leader’s election on the first one is always the best one, but you got to look like you want the job and you’ve got to get that lazy federal organisation to get out there and help you’. He would have won. He got 52%t of the vote and lost. The reason was Gray’s federal office.

It is a pity, really, that Keating did not know who was responsible for briefing Rudd –just before he gave his television grabs for the day yesterday — that Prime Minister John Howard had just announced the deployment of an extra 300 troops to Afghanistan; Sky News, which a keen staff member was watching, was in fact referring to an announcement made months before. There surely would have been some wonderful invective for that person.

So, instead, there was just a slap in passing for deputy Labor leader Julia Gillard for not giving sufficient credit to the man once described as the “world’s greatest Treasurer” for the changes he made to the industrial relations system back in 1993.

Truly vintage Paul Keating and a reminder to those Rudd and federal Labor apparatchiks that you neglect the party’s past at your peril.

It might have seemed a clever thing not to give former prime minister Keating a cameo role at the last national conference. Perhaps there are a handful of voters for whom the memory of Labor governments past might be enough to remind them not to vote Labor again.

But the price to be paid for ignoring your party’s heritage is that one of the great reformers in Australian economic history clearly no longer feels bound to keep silent in the interests of his successors.

Loyalty, Kevin Rudd and his underlings were reminded last night, is a two-way street.