Tim Blair


New Criterion



Friday, July 02, 2004

The difficulties that would face Labor's Mark Latham with his policy-lite populism were predictable, but they seem to have surprised the average media hack.

Where better to find expression of this disappontment than Henny Herald?

Today Louise Dodson asks Where is Mark Latham? And why has he become so media shy?
He was happy to do a post-budget press conference in Canberra on May 13 to promote his policy to vaccinate children against the deadly pneumoccocal infection - which forced the Government to promise to follow suit. But since then he has not held one media conference with the Canberra press gallery - it has been more than 50 days since his last one.

By June Latham had become almost invisible with only about 12 media appearances. He is not giving personal profile or other interviews, either.

In comparison, John Howard made about 50 media appearances in June, including 20 radio and television interviews and 20 "doorstops" - unscheduled questioning by journalists. Howard even held four scheduled press conferences in Canberra - something he usually avoids in favour of interviews with talkback radio.
The answer, my friends, lies not in Latham's biffo-benighted past, or even in his knack of knocking down every friend who's ever helped him.

Latham's problem is deeper. Part of it lies in the contradiction between the "I am of the people, not politics" persona, and the policy dilemmas he and his party face.

He leaves defending his backdown on pharmaceutical co-payments to Bob McMullan and Julia Gillard, because that kind of policy is old politics, and Latham is the new politics of popular empathy. He dodges a visit to the US for similar reasons.

Now he faces a run of bad news announcements about the program cuts needed to find fiscal space for his election promises.

Guess who's going to make those announcements.

Trouble is, much of the 'freshness' and 'excitement' created by Latham resembles the magnetism of the school-yard fight. Government is another matter.