Tim Blair


New Criterion



Monday, September 27, 2004
There's a remarkable similarity between the CVs presented to their electorates by candidates Kerry and Latham, if you ignore the obvious differences.

Both are basing their political credentials on selective use of their pre-politics pasts instead of their recent political records.

John Kerry based his appeal on his Vietnam record and suffered accordingly when that turned out to be less heroic than the Democrats' spin.

Mark Latham has concocted a working-class 'larrikin' image, first popularised by the impeccably middle-class Bob Hawke, and that has been undermined by a few obvious flaws.

Like the fact that Latham's parents weren't the only ones to have a mortgage, that mortgage-holding is not in any case a mark of the economically-deprived, the educational opportunities that Latham took advantage of were established by Coalition governments, and the fact that Latham's use of those opportunities was marked by special favours from political sponsors.

In fact, allowing for the distinctive culture of New South Wales, dominated as it is by the Labor Party right and the institutions it has created, there is more than a formal correspondence between Latham's progress and that of John Kerry, graduate of the Institut Montana of Zug, Switzerland.

Both Latham and Kerry are, in their own ways, children of privilege.

Both are now running from their more recent political pasts. In Kerry's case it's because he finds no support there for running down President Bush's Middle East policy. This leaves him with the difficult task of claiming a greater determination to fight the US's enemies than the President, while sounding more and more like he wants his country to fail in a field where it simply cannot afford to fail, just to spite George W.

Latham alternates between presenting his family as talismans of his character, like a candidate for the US Presidency, and whining when a few in the media point out the casualties of Latham's larrikin past, including his first wife.

This has left Latham with little more than fiscal rectitude to stand on, as the surpluses of prosperity wash in to the tax office, and the implausible complaint that Prime Minister Howard can not be trusted with the public purse.

And when someone points out that Latham's term as mayor of Liverpool was marked by Whitlamite largesse with the rate-payers' funds, that bad news is treated as if it came from another universe.

Howard's determination to spend up, combined with the defects of Labor's own spending programmes, imposed by Latham on his shadow Cabinet, leaves Latham with little going for him but the fact that he is not John Howard, the leader who has already passed the use-by date for leadership in today's querulous democracies.

John Kerry lacks even that advantage.