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Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries
G'day. Today, Webdiary's Latham watcher, artist Robert Bosler, reviews the diaries. Robert has been a Webdiary contributor and a friend of Webdiary for several years. His last piece was The fall guys. My interview with Latham on the book is here.
Myth understandings: Latham's diaries reviewed
He would surely have known the complete annihilation his public regard would take upon this book's release, just as surely as he would have hoped to destroy others' reputations by it. So why did he do it?
The answer to this might be found in the great unspoken truth (by a serving politician) of the Australian political system - that it has been horribly reduced to falsity, treachery and showmanship - and that the media interface between that system and the Australian people, supposed to serve each of those, is even worse. Since his public regard was tied up in that mess perhaps he considered it best to scuttle the lot of it.
He's certainly achieved that. The Diaries are indeed negative. And it is easy to imagine that as a seminal historical document it has failed - but for one thing. It is too early to tell.
On their own merit the Diaries would not be worthy of seminal historical value, but the book is amazingly unique as a wilful act of cracking open an inner sanctum of the political realm. There is nothing like it in our history and likely won't be again, and dumping the lot of it greatly heightens its power as a tool of change, and the possibility that it might settle into history a some sort of pivotal moment.
While people in the Labor Party might rush now to discredit or disempower this tool, or publicly run down its significance, it is hard to imagine that behind the scenes the Diaries are not screwing their way through the Labor Party, powerfully shaping it as they speak.
And be certain, the Liberal Party hand will be firmly on that tool of change, too, ready to screw whatever it can, come the next election.
Not only then will the passage of time place this book in a more true historical perspective, but it will be truth itself which will determine its place, because if there is little truth in this book, small will be its place, such is it that there is power in truth, regardless of political spin. It is fair to qualify truth as being more or less, because the Diary is one man's presentation of it. Reading them this is highly evident, notwithstanding it is presented as a personal diary, and yet of that singular perspective it carries the sound of truth, and therefore significant would be the change. We shall see.
As a personal diary this book again is remarkable and unique in that it was always intended for publication. No doubt many politicians are keeping personal diaries and we could rightly imagine them asking themselves of their own work "What if mine were published!", and firmly locking them in a private drawer. Except if they were intended to publish.
It is this intention to publish which is a key to understanding more of what Latham has done, and perhaps here we could raise the contemporary complexion of publishing and draw from this current environment some thoughts of interest. Thrown open to a modern world of blogging, where one person every second enters the world of publishing, today so often is that done in the form of a personal diary. The Latham Diaries could well be considered hard copy to that personal publishing revolution and would be entirely unremarkable purely in that context.
But while a blog which can in thoughtful retrospect be deleted, these Diaries cannot, and again Latham's committed intention to see these diaries into the public realm, after his own reflection on them, invites us to ask why.
To say he did it simply to unload bile from the bitterment of losing is to fall prey to the very thing he rails against: the poverty of national dialogue and the susceptibility of people to swallow the mainstream media line, and the corporate driven willingness for that media to bait and hook them.
Latham's first diary entry is early in 1994. From that very first entry he sets out, writing in private, to fulfill his destiny. Page after page he covers the same theme. His destiny was not to become Prime Minister. His destiny in quick end-sequence was to lead the Australian Labor Party, lose an election under his leadership, and culminate in the publishing of these Diaries.
Every step of the way through this book shows a man driving forward, gathering information for the book, as though to fill it with the focused content solely for the purpose of it performing the final intended scuttle function of his political life.
On its own, the book could be considered a document through the journey of self-fulfilling negativity. Over the years, bit by bit, often prophetically, the book fills with the pain and treachery that would come ultimately to be the final living statement; gone would be the author.
On its own, the negative content grows and ultimately gains power as though to become master of its own destiny, master of the author, and live on its own in final testament as victor.
And sadly it is on the negative basis the mainstream media has cared to see it. This is too easy, and shows mainstream media for the victim of its own folly. Negativity was not the victor, nor was bile the final testament. Latham, remember, knew this would always happen. While the mainstream media bickers and trivialises, Latham had set them a trap, and into it they jumped. He'd neatly wrapped up the sick political system and the sicker mainstream media (as Latham viewed them) lost in negativity and bile.
Cast free of the lot of it, entirely, the author walked off happily to be with the woman he loves, and raise his boys - doing the very things from his personal perspective he believed in, and sought to assist for others through a system not allowing him to do it, all along. Free, and a winner, in his own life, by the valid rights of his own measure, indeed.
His alternative? To stay on, be eaten like the others of their belief and their passion as he saw it, and end up one of the conniving leaking non-believing non-positive non-policy lifetime politicians he vehemently despises.
Yet the book cannot rightly be reviewed on its own. Consideration must fairly be given to its context and what else he'd done while writing it.
It is part of a large body of work. Essays, articles, speeches, books and rising into policy were all part of Latham's efforts in public service. We must remember Latham challenged the embedded Howard and shook him in his Prime Ministerial boots in a way unknown with Beazley and Crean. And that Latham did it from a platform attempting positivity against the weight of Howard's and the Liberal Party's negativity - an electorally enforced negativity that went far beyond the confines of a book for public choice. And we should bear in mind Latham in the time of arrival on the leadership scene like a lightning flash snapped legislated policy into place from Opposition, and brought the government to change, one hit after the other.
All of these things must be born in mind in understanding the Diaries. While the Diaries were filling with negativity, Latham was out there in public life extending and practising positivity as best he could. That the media reported the stuff ups and the crudity is part of all our problem, not just Latham's, and applies to all politicians, that their positive work goes unnoticed and failings feverishly sought. Latham's book is a direct reflection of this very thing.
The Diaries are not an easy read. And they will more likely be to the distaste of most. The text is raw, often crude, and given in staccato. Many will be offended by the manner of their writing.
And on that point something unusual is hidden beneath the heavy weight of their content. Latham writes a prelude to each year, written this year (2005) upon reflection, and here we find the text smooth and elegant and embracing more of a grandness of spirit. It is hard not to wonder what book this would be had Latham chosen to write in that style instead. But then it would not have been his diaries, and it would not have been Latham. Whether it would have become a more effective tool of change is hard to guess.
There is a disturbing difference in its content, cut in two, separated by the day Latham obtains leadership. Prior to that moment, the diaries show a man striving to serve publicly, create policy, explore ideas, to grow and learn, and reflect the pain of what would stop it, which includes his own attitude. After obtaining leadership, the Diaries reflect more of that pain, soon to become riddled with it.
What is striking in them also is Latham does not attack Howard. We could easily imagine what Keating, for instance, might say in that regard. To talk of the Diaries in existing public terms of hate, we could conceivably imagine the hate Keating, or even Costello, might have for Howard. And we could conceivably imagine Howard would be a greater source of hate for Latham, being his opponent and a stoppage to Latham achieving Prime Ministership, but there is none.
Many have instead opined that Latham's hate was reserved for people of his own Party. My reading of it is different - that it wasn't born of hate - and taken from the thrust of Latham's attempts and need to create change, and the quality of life he wished people to have, empowered by politics, and nurtured by more than the cold womb of the corporate market.
If Latham hated, he hated what held back the Labor Party from being a positive and valuable political player. And he hated what held Australia back from achieving a more wholesome understanding of richness.
No, the Diaries for whatever strong degree of hatred and bile they contain, are the dumpings of a man deeply, deeply disappointed for what could have been, his self acknowledged wrongness for the job, the loneliness, and disgust for the system he was part of, against an untold backdrop of determined and unique personal effort.
And his measure of what could have been was not personal aggrandisement - that is born out in the public humiliation he knew the media would dish up, and the Diaries would have therefore been adjusted on that account - his measure instead was public service.
At heart, Mark Latham wanted to serve the public. He wanted a team as a team. He wanted to be with his family. He wanted a media more responsible, beyond serving the corporate need. Whether he failed or the extent of his achievement in those things, or like him or hate him, or just ignore him, the reader will choose variously. That we are discussing it at all surely disgusts him.
What we could agree upon, however, is that the life of the politician must have those things - public service, family, team-manship, media - in good and fair doses, and in balance, for their sakes and ours.
Mark Latham the politician showed our system does not have that, and he put in a better than fair shot through a varied body of work to change it or at least get that message across. His Diaries reveal what would stop it happening, and the results if those issues remain unattended.
How powerful The Latham Diaries serve as a further tool to create that needed change, working away quietly behind the scenes or thrown up gleefully in the future, or simply forgotten in distaste, remains to be seen.