Mark Latham Redux: Just a step to the right?

rocky horrorOnce upon a time, Mark Latham, giving some signs of the combativeness for which he later became notorious, made a speech accusing me of being born with a silver spoon in my mouth, something which was untrue and certainly came as a surprise to my Father, and I think would have also surprised my classmates at Kedron State High School. Latham’s accusation, the theme of which was that I was one of those then storied inner city elites and thus to be totally disregarded, was in response to a critical review I’d written in the Journal of Australian Political Economy of a book he’d co-edited with Peter Botsman, The Enabling State.

It’s interesting for me to re-read that book review, because Mark Latham’s basic political orientation in his Quarterly Essay, ‘Not Dead Yet‘, doesn’t seem to have changed too much, though it’s pleasing to see some of the combativeness replaced with some charity.

The sub-title of Latham’s essay is “Labor’s Post-Left Future”. I would have thought that the Global Financial Crisis would have demonstrated to the apostles of the end of left and right that their thinking had itself been transcended by reality. But that’s probably the problem – I’m yet to read anyone call for the left to de-left itself who isn’t themselves either on the right, or part of a Great Moving Right Show. And this politics, associated with an era of early New Labour and Antony Giddens as Tony Blair’s court guru, now seems resolutely old-fashioned.

The nostrums about ‘aspirational’ voters, on show again in Latham’s piece on Julia Gillard’s visit to Western Sydney, represent a fantasy. To some degree they are grounded in shifting structural patterns of work and class identities (but only to some degree – wasn’t Paul Keating’s dad a self employed small business person?). But, really, it’s the Lindsay Line writ large, as much as Latho might decry the emptying out of the New South Wales Labor Right.

The endless dichotomism strangely employed by politicans and thinkers who’d often talk Hegel-ese and preface a range of statements with “neither, nor” and “both, and”, has not gone away. Labor has nothing to learn from inner city elites, etc, etc. I’d have thought that a former Member for Werriwa, Gough Whitlam, might have disagreed. So, too, might that epitome of an ALP politician blokey and blue collar in style, Tom Burns, who when Queensland Opposition Leader after Joh Bjelke-Petersen almost wiped the party out, quickly turned to UQ and Griffith academics for policy ballast.

In fact, Labor has been at its best when it has not scorned education or thought, and when it has built around itself some intellectual and policy thinking. Mark Latham, while he tried hard, demonstrated that it’s difficult to develop that culture in a vacuum, at the same time displaying one of his many antinomies – simultaneously flayer of the elites and social democratic intellectual and author.

I’ve enjoyed a lot of Mark Latham’s occasional writing in the Financial Review and in Crikey, but I don’t think Australian Labor has a lot to learn from ‘Not Dead Yet’. Nevertheless, it’s a good thing that he’s written the essay, as debate among Labor people and sympathisers about its political philosophy and strategic direction is much to be welcomed.

For a much more comprehensive (and balanced) review, I urge everyone to read the redoubtable Matt Cowgill’s post at We Are All Dead.


« profile & posts archive

This author has written 2362 posts for Larvatus Prodeo.

Return to: Homepage | Blog Index

13 responses to “Mark Latham Redux: Just a step to the right?”

  1. David Irving (no relation)

    I finished Latham’s essay a few days ago. Given that I don’t agree with a lot of it (his whole thesis seems to be predicated on endless growth, which makes me dismiss him as a serious thinker), I didn’t think much of it. For instance, he spent way too much pagespace on the shortcomings of Andrew Bolt and others, which really wasn’t relevant to the point I think he was trying to make.

  2. GabrielleH

    I’m glad Latham is busy antagonising right wingers and I am always delighted to read his essays which parody Gerard Henderson so effectively and mock Bolt’s ridiculous posturings. I must admit these give me enormous pleasure and sometimes I laugh out loud. I’m grateful that someone can take the time to do this and can be bothered to do it, as I’m sure it annoys those on the receiving end considerably. I’m also grateful that he is busy with this and so has less time to make trouble elsewhere.

  3. Sam

    Latham is quite skilled at exposing the humbug, double standards, wilful ignorance ans sheer sheer nastiness of various right winger commentators. His critique of the Labor Party, as an institution, and its culture, is spot on. And – dare I say it – his criticism of the Labor Party Left and Greens is often not a million miles from the truth. He appears to be a good judge of character, at least of the people he knows personally.

    But as a policy thinker he is very limited. His Quarterly Essay was shallow. For instance, his championing of the virtues of markets is pure 2006. He either doesn’t know that the GFC happened or doesn’t care, because to acknowledge it is to disturb his world view.

    Mark Latham is now 52 years old – the same age as Malcolm Fraser when he was voted out – and he still projects the world view that he acquired when he was 25. He is getting a bit long in the tooth to be youthful policy insurgent, especially when the world has moved on.

  4. j_p_z

    “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”

    Oh jeepers creepers, are you guys really still gonna resort to auto-mod for all the turrible hurrible Ranters and Dissenters, who might possibly say druddful things which your delicate virgin ears could not withstand hearing? Are you rilly such hot-house orchids? I wouldn’t think so, youse seem pretty darn robust to me.

    It’s your place of course so do what ye like, I have no claim to a spurious argument about censorship. The question I _would_ ask, though, is “Are we not men?” Your answer would appear to be “We are Devo,” which I think is not the noblest possible answer. Do what you like, of course, but in the spirit of lively conversation, which is what I think accounts for much of the true excellence of this place, I’d ask you to at least contemplate and reconsider that position.

  5. tigtog

    Commentors who have a history of veering off-topic frequently are more likely to be auto-moderated than others, j_p_z. Since discussing our moderation policy is definitely off-topic on this thread, how about you at least try to respect our netiquette and see how you fare in the Overflow thread?

  6. Pavlov's Cat

    The question I _would_ ask, though, is “Are we not men?”

    I don’t need to gloss that, do I.

    I am reminded of the ballsy female Marine in Aliens who when asked by a jock in Ripley’s team ‘Hey, have you ever been mistaken for a man?’ replies ‘No, have you?’

  7. Matt C

    Thanks for the link, Mark

  8. Fyodor

    [take the off-topic discussion to the Overflow thread ~ Mods]

  9. Robert Merkel

    Mark Latham, while he tried hard, demonstrated that it’s difficult to develop that culture in a vacuum, at the same time displaying one of his many antinomies – simultaneously flayer of the elites and social democratic intellectual and author.

    Is this referring to his time in office, or the essay itself?

    The essay itself strikes me as effort of a smart individual who – whether by lack of awareness or by choice – rejected the voluminous previous work in various area and tried to develop his own ideas from first principles.

  10. Paul Norton

    Robert @9:

    The essay itself strikes me as effort of a smart individual who – whether by lack of awareness or by choice – rejected the voluminous previous work in various area and tried to develop his own ideas from first principles.

    Latham has also repeatedly come across as the kind of person who seems to think that he is the first and only person to have had really brilliant policy ideas – a trait that is not uncommon among bright adolescents, but that most people have moved on from by the time they reach Latham’s current age.

  11. jumpy

    Latham is a union thug that the (1) taxi drivers now call sir and (2) camera men fear for their gear.

    (1)
    (2)

    Should be in jail.

  12. Johno

    I’m glad Latham is busy antagonising right wingers and I am always delighted to read his essays which parody Gerard Henderson so effectively and mock Bolt’s ridiculous posturings

    Most right wingers regard Latham as a joke. Gerard and Andrew generally just have a good laugh at his parodies.

    I heard him speak on three occasions before he became Opposition Leader. He sounded very smart and impressive, until you thought through what he gad said. There was much less than there had seemed to be.

  13. Terry

    The excerpt from Chris Evans’s farewell speech to the Senate shown on Insiders today was good on the subject of Latho, Richo etc. Pondering what he might do after retiring from Parliament, he considered the option of going onto the 24-hour news channels. There he could talk endlessly about how things were done in his day, and how everyone doing it today is doing it wrong. He concluded by saying that if he considers this option as a way to spend his time, “just shoot me”.