Tim Blair


New Criterion



Sunday, October 10, 2004
You want to know my opinion? Mark Latham lost because of Mark Latham.

He got his boost when elected to the Labor leadership because he wasn't Simon Crean or John Howard. He was a novelty with all the appeal of the school-yard larrikin. The crowd gathered, and watched.

What they were looking for was policy substance. What did they get?

First, the attractive guiding metaphor of the 'ladder of opportunity', an appeal for equality of oportunity.

Then the simplistic sloganeering of 'troops home by Christmas', instead of an Iraq policy. It passed with the pacifist crowd, but not with anyone else.

The alliance with the Greens. From the moment he let Lord Bob-Brown squire him into the green cathedrals of the Styx, Latham was committed to an anti-forestry agenda. He didn't specify it until one week before election day. It still cost him two seats in Tasmania and votes in Gippsland, perhaps elsewhere.

The alliance with the Greens, stage II - imposition of Peter Garrett on a safe Labor seat. That produced more problems than you could explicate in a week.

What do you make of a man who deserts every opinion, all hostile to wealth-production, that he's held until that day? When he's asked for his views on anything, he can't answer until the Party has instructed him. Do you think the workers didn't notice? There was a swing against Garrett in his own seat.

A tax and welfare policy that penalised some of the most needy, the single-income earners with kids. Do you think they may have noticed?

Education and child-care policy that limited choice, and were deliberately divisive, because he thought that's what Labor parties should do.

A Medicare policy that reduced all health issues to 'no 75-year old shall go without a hospital bed within 18 months', was unaffordable, undeliverable and inequitable. By this point, I suspect, no-one was buying anyway.

All these policies have Latham's paw prints all over them. The decision to pull out the troops was, according to undenied reports, made without consultation with Latham's defence and foreign affairs spokesmen. They were all fatally flawed.

Labor still seems to think Latham is its saviour. He's shown he's Prime-Ministerial quality. Just give it time and the electorate will see it too.

How likely is that Latham can perform a personality reversal? Perhaps we shouldn't tell the Laborites the truth.