Mark Latham may have been paranoid — it’s hardly an uncommon trait among politicians — but he was paranoid in his own special way. Latham is a man convinced that they’re not necessarily all out to get him, but those who aren’t will all ultimately fail him. Latham’s intellectual, personal and political history is a sequence of perceived moments in the which ideas, institutions and people in whom he had invested trust and faith betrayed him.

Most particularly, the ALP, the party to which he had given so much of his life, turned out in his view to be a nest of vipers — a conclusion he strangely only reached after becoming its leader. Following his retirement, he rejected not merely his party but the entire political process, telling young people to stay out of it and try to change the world via other means.

But more recently Latham has gone wider still. The man who once championed exciting ideas of community-centred initiatives to mitigate the depersonalising and dispiriting effects of global capitalism has lately turned his anger on the people he once aspired to lead, attacking the consumerism, small-mindedness and self-centredness of Australians.

Which sums up Latham’s brief moment in Australian politics perfectly. What was important was not his robust language or hatred of the Coalition, but the quality of his ideas. Unlike most of his political contemporaries, he possessed an outstanding and original mind, with the potential to reshape Australia toward a more inclusive, more sustainable and more community-minded place. He was brought low by his own grand sense of grievance and alienation — which voters subtly but firmly detected and rejected. He should never have led his party, but Australia is the poorer intellectually and political for his departure.

Few have been closer to Latham than his former chief of staff, Mike Richards. Dr Richards is also uniquely placed to analyse the behaviour of his former employer. He wrote a 13,000 word paper doing just that — you may have read a highlight or two last week. The paper had been slated to appear in the next edition of The International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies but was pulled after legal concerns. We can’t see why, and neither (more importantly) can our lawyers. Today Crikey subscribers can read  The Loner As Leader in full.

Peter Fray

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