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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

by Robert Bosler

The notion that a politician could wrap up his time in public office in a book without amendment for how they might be regarded was inconceivable, before this one.  Mark Latham has not only (to use one of his own terms) pole-axed the Labor Party in The Latham Diaries, he has pole-axed along with the last of his public reputation that notion as well, at least for some time to come. But that seemed to be his intention.

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 And it is easy to imagine that as a seminal historical document it has failed - but for one thing.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.

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re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

From the Canberra Times today, Button yearns for yesteryear of wit and smarts about the House:

Politicians who tell the truth rather than hide behind pre-fabricated jargon-encrusted party positions are portrayed as having made a serious gaffe.

John Button's sharp assessment won wide applause as the former Labor Senate Leader addressed a public forum at the Australian Media Traditions Conference at Old Parliament House yesterday.

The 10-year Cabinet minister and 19-year Senator's diagnosis might have been stark, but it came with a prescription: more education and, especially, more humour. That won more applause from the solid crowd in the Members' Dining Room.

With his co-keynote speaker, Alan Ramsey, of The Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Button bemoaned the move from the old House to the new in 1988.

"It has had an effect on the relationship between politicians and the public, and politicians and the media," Mr Button said, recalling King's Hall as "a marketplace of democracy".

When talking of the new House, both speakers touched on nationalistic monumentalism and a man called Mussolini.

Parliamentary language had changed, too.

"There's much more jargon in politics now and less humour," Mr Button said of the "white-bread politicians" who came from a shallow gene pool.

How good were journalists at cutting through the jargon?

"Very bad."

The press gallery had too many anodyne and not enough angry members.

"My bluntest point would be that politicians can't talk as well as they used to and journalists don't write as well and the contribution of TV to that has been enormous."

Better-educated journalists and politicians were needed, with Mr Button unable tonominate a new MP or Senator elected last year who filled that bill. - Andrew Fraser

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

Regarding "born to rule" I find this is a state of mind more than an economic consideration. In that regard, Howard is definately of that class.

I had high hopes for Latham to reinvigorate the Labor party. It may yet turn out that he has realised my hopes.

Margo: Hi Stephen. The day will come...

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

Robert Bosler, surely it is easy for Latham to "poleaxe" the last of his "public regard" and "reputation" when he is aware he can "suckle" off the public teat for a substantial time via the financial benefits accrued through his time in politics? Some would call it hypocrisy.

Furthermore, if he was really prepared to "scuttle the lot of it" (as you say) - then perhaps he might agree he had been engaged in the system for years under false pretences - and subsequently forgo his generous pension (of which the less generous changes kicked in after his time). You know for every politician of his ilk I would like to see a "balance sheet".

I wonder. Has he made a profit on his Diaries yet?


re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

"What is striking ...is that Latham does not attack Howard."

Well, he does speak of him, disparagingly, as of the "born to rule class", which is idiotic, in that Howard's background - inner west, when that was negative; his father a service station proprietor - is close to Keating's and a vast distance from Fraser's.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

"It is hard to imagine that behind the scenes the Diaries are not screwing their way throught the Labor Party, powerfully shaping it as they speak."

Is it? I find it to be really easy to imagine. Just as they could ignore his personally delivered words why would these one-day wonder printed words be any different? I don't imagine that they take any of what he says on board, except as a challenge to negate him. Regrettably, he has made that easy.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

Best thing I have read about the whole Latham business. Thank you, Robert Bosler. You understand as few others, how passionate Mark is about being productive and positive. Speaking one's truth is never negative if we have ears to listen for the creaking gears of change.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

I was amused in how quickly the Labor party and the media denounced the diaries, conversely ensuring their success. Even people who would not normally buy a political biography couldn't help but be interested after all that free publicity.

I too was impressed with Latham's vision, and actually began to believe that the Labor party might actually start to stand for something in this country. And now they are back to Beazley again...and back to square one.

Labor may win the next election, as the electorate becomes increasingly aware of Howard's many deceits, but it certainly wouldn't be on any merit on their part.

We need to get over this myth that we need a relationship with the US 'at all costs'. This is not to say that we should not have a relationship with the US, only that it should be more balanced - not the subservient one we have now. We need leaders who have a vision for the long term peace and prosperity of Australia - putting the country first rather than themselves, and the ideologues in Washington.

But I am confident that any who emerge will be dealt with by 'Big Brother'.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

F Kendall and Stephen Callaghan look no further than Howard's missus if you want a clue to how an intellectual nonentity and charisma-challenged nerd can rise well above his station.

Howard was around 35 when he married, unusually late in life for someone who now loudly pushes "family values", and his wife replaced his mother in terms of influence.

Hyacinth has seemingly long carried a ladder in her sensible handbag, which is what you did if you were a socially ambitious female forty years ago, without the "right" bloodlines of a Tamie Fraser or a Sonia McMahon. Hyacinth would have been a formidable political force herself had she been twenty years younger and able to fully benefit from the women's movement, or alternatively had been as feisty and telegenic as family friend and former ABC personality Pru Goward. Our Hyacinth is not lacking in brains (they didn't send fools to Sydney Girls' High in the 50s) and is quite capable of playing a low-key suburban Messalina to Howard's cut-rate Claudius.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

The shallowness of Latham is amply demonstrated by his gibe at Howard, that Howard is part of the 'the born to rule mob'. Howard is not. He is a typical example of the striving middle class, as has been noted here already, not far removed from Keating in his background. Howard is a very able politician who has devoted his whole life to serving those who do rule, and his personal capacities have made him the most successful practitioner of the kiss up, kick down kind of politics this country has ever seen. LAtham's silly analysis of Howard shows that he lacks sociological imagination, personal insight, and any understanding at all about the roots of both Australian conservatism as well as the tradition he purported to represent, as his crappy books prior to his diaries also demonstrated. He is a typical example of what Button was talking about. He had never had a real job, and had spent his time climbing the greasy and unedifying pole of local politics (branch stacking and the usual CV of a local ALP boyo) as a way to get into Parliament

His diaries show that his career was a personal journey, for and on behalf of himself, not based on any clear thinking, imagination or insight into anything much except his own ambition. I am not decrying ambition, far from it, but reading his diaries left me as clueless at the end as I always was, about exactly what Latham has ever been 'on about' except for his own career. The insights into the shenanigans of the ALP front bench and their relationships with the shoddy Australian media were very interesting, but apart from that, the bile and personal vituperation merely illustrated his general contempt for everything and everybody that was not devoted solely to his own purpose and vision.

Not a good look for a leader that promised a 'new politics', and it is amazing that otherwise sensible people could think that this stream of self pitying hatred and contempt has anything to offer anyone.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

Here are some quotes from the speech. Latham gives both the left and right a going to. How do these ideas sit with you, now, in our current environment? Should we have explored these ideas more fully, when we had the chance? And, geez, I wish it didn't have the title of Third Way.. like third eye, new age connotations - bad marketing, politically today. The term "social capital" doesn't work for me, either. Perhaps "social wealth" would be better?

The speech is broken into headings: pick the one that suits you if you wish to look into it further.

We have entered an era of political disengagement. The hierarchies of organised politics have generated enormous public distrust and dissatisfaction. Indeed, it is difficult to think of a government policy that still fosters a strong sense of collective interest and collective responsibility

This is the crisis of Left-of-Centre politics: the widespread decline in collective institutions and collective ideals. Unless this crisis is addressed, our hopes for social democracy will hollow out. We will become a cause for power, rather than a cause for a good society

Over the past decade, a group of social democrats have moved down the reinvention path. They have developed a distinctive political project, exploring the new institutions and forums of a collective society. In the United States, Bill Clinton called it the Third Way. In Britain, Tony Blair has made it the work of New Labour

In this country, of course, it underpinned the reform program of the Hawke and Keating Governments and has now become part of our political orthodoxy.

The Third Way ...aims to cross over institutional boundaries, to build relationships of trust and cooperation, to turn opponents into productive partners. Throughout society, new information technologies are flattening hierarchies and opening up new partnership agendas

The old ideologies positioned politics as a struggle for ownership, the historic battle between socialism and capitalism. The Third Way , by contrast, sees politics as an exercise in communitarianism: rebuilding the relationships and social capital between people.

Across all demographic, geographic and income groups, Australia is experiencing a new type of poverty, the poverty in human relationships. This is one of the paradoxes of our time: the growing number of people who are materially well-off, yet socially poor. No matter the size of someone’s bank account, if they cannot walk the streets with a sense of safety, enjoy public places and share community spaces then they lack the essence of social capital. None of us can live by financial capital alone.

The Third Way is particularly important for poor neighbourhoods. Part of the failure of the old politics lies in its disconnection from disadvantaged communities. The chief demand in poor areas is not for more state intervention or market forces. It is to normalise the neighbourhood – to give people a sense of security and common purpose, to build the connections of a trusting community.

There are a lot more.. but I best not pinch more. It's worth a look, or a second look, today.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

Dee Bayliss, your analysis of Hyacinth may well be correct, although some of us have always seen her in a more complex mode.
So, to read M Latham's initial chirruping that she seems a warm, motherly woman, seems abysmally unsophisticated....How easy it must have been for her to disarm young pollies.

He seems to have relied overly much on his own impressions, rather than on information or commonsense....and, of course, he had little knowledge of human nature.

Btw, I think that jwh may have been closer to 30 at his marriage - still quite old at the time, I would have thought.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

Here is the speech "Reinventing Collectivism, The New Social Democracy", mentioned below.

Margo: Thanks Robert.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

Dee Bayliss: "a low-key suburban Messalina to Howard's cut-rate Claudius:?

I'd have to say that this is a gross aspersion on the only decent Caesar of 'em all. Far prefer your earlier (on another thread) suggestion - as I read it - of JWH as Sir Billy's Mini-me. This has the added attraction, of course, of Hyacinth's alter ego being Sonia (albeit without the legs ... or other attributes...)

Nonetheless, your point about the First Lady's political nous is well-made.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

Some further thoughts to share and points for the record..

Latham is often regarded as being of the Labor 'right'. While I think there's no value in notions of left or right, others may be interested to hear Latham's views on it. He states in the Diaries "I joined the Right in the mid-1980's for pragmatic reasons in a two-faction state you had to join one of them to have any hope of preselection. And the right seemed to be more realistic on economic issues than the left." He described his actual philosophical position as "Centre Left".

Until just prior to his gaining leadership, Latham was seriously, desperately bored. I think this had a huge impact on how he performed, and the mistakes he made. As an aspiring politician, developing vision and policy, as an MP he often found himself caught in a place of treadmill boredom, bound by duties of party, media and systemic folly.

He directly, wilfully antagonised Packer and Murdoch.
He considered himself an "outsider" to the system, having lost faith in it.

17th May, 1999. Latham: "The Third Way is more interested in the relations between people than controlling economic relationships..... I saw an example of this in London.. The local clergyman has transformed a poor neighbourhood by inspiring new confidence and creativity among its residents. He's what the British call a social entrepreneur, a leader who is willing to take risks, who finds clever ways of using abandoned community assets and encouraging people to develop their skills, self-esteem and full potential in life."

12th July, 2001, he says, "Everything I believe in, everything I have researched as a parliamentarian, is in this speech 'Reinventing Collectivism, The New Social Democracy''. This speech was delivered that day to the Uni of NSW.

Whitlam is widely regarded as being the father figure to his development, but I think it was more Keating's influence on him. While in service, Latham says he abided by the principle of honouring past Party leaders, in a Party which had grown to lose that. It was a formative principle he held stubbornly, and which he says distanced him from others in the Party. It's conceivable he held a personal responsibility to combine both Whitlam's and Keating's legacy in the vision he put forward, perhaps to prove the point of this principle.

He doesn't allude to this, but it does leave me wondering whether in his formative years he was attempting the social change accorded to Whitlam and the economic conviction accorded Keating in some sort of median, as though to honour them both, and heal their public legacy. Keating's influence, I feel, bore heavily in Latham's thinking through the Diaries and again while it was unsaid it appears to me Latham was affected by what he considered that strength of leadership conviction, to exert that leadership will for change. Keating's upbringing, his street smarts for the fight, to not cop folly or bear fools, these things I feel influenced the young Latham, right down to the use of street language. Because the Labor Party had written off its past leaders out of bending to public whim, I feel Latham may not have had access to the balancing or correcting influences from his own party to temper these Keating influences and help guide them for the current times, other than to reject them. While serving, Faulkner guided and advised Latham, but still I feel Keating was the definitive figure.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

I am a working class individual that grew up voting labour. I have had inklings that wrongs were going on behind the scenes in politics and the media. That they were close partners hand and foot. I read the diaries and most of my suspicions had been confirmed. The media trounced Latham after he wrote this book. And even Andrew Denton tried to drag him across the coals. I thought the read was brilliant and refreshing. And I think he would have made a brilliant prime minister. But I personally feel he will do better in the private sector. My hat is off to Latham. And I think Bosler is on the money with most of his points.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

You are attempting to "educate" me, R Bosler.
Your overly long posts assume that I am uninformed.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

Apologies, F.Kendall. What you see below is not a long quote.. Each paragraph is a different quote. Read any one of them afresh.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

Because I don't subscribe to talkboards to read long diatribes, Robert Bosler, I have no idea what point you were hoping to make. However, I read one introduction that said: "Lifelong learning is an expensive exercise....This task is beyond the financial limits of the state."

Whoever said that is wrong about Australia c 2005. The freedom and opportunity for citizens to learn is extraordinary.

Of course, if they therefore end up on large incomes, they might have to repay their citizenry a little. Now, there's a bugger.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

Robert Bosler's quotes make it obvious that Mark Latham is in fact Solomon Wakeling, (or vice versa).

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

Couldn't help myself. Quotes are always good fun.. agree or disagree, here are a few more picked out from the speech, from a bygone age, to whistle up some thoughts:

Lifelong learning is an expensive exercise, especially once it becomes universally available. This task is beyond the financial limits of the state. It can only be achieved through the development of learning partnerships across society - mobilising extra resources from households, communities and corporations, as well as governments

I can never understand why so many on the Left are so pessimistic. Their only purpose in public life is the promise of a better past. They are more interested in the history of the 1980s than the possibilities of the Information Age. Ultimately, this is why the Third Way matters. It believes in a new era of progressive politics and most importantly, it knows how to get there.

Perhaps the greatest shortcoming of Left-of-Centre politics has been its failure to recognise the dynamic nature of the capitalist system

In reality, however, capitalism is in a constant state of evolution. In Schumpeter's famous phrase, markets constitute a perpetual exercise in "creative destruction". This not only involves the destruction of old products and industries, it involves the creation of new economic and social conditions.

Now, with the emergence of mass capitalism, we have an opportunity to use the economic system for egalitarian purposes. Just as capitalism has changed, our strategies for social justice must also change.

Without a tangible stake in the new economy, they [40% of our population, then] feel threatened by the prospect of economic restructuring and exclusion.

We have much to learn from asset-based programs in the United States and Western Europe

On balance, the rise of mass capitalism is an opportunity for social justice. This is not to suggest, however, that the market economy is beyond question or critique. The primary flaw in modern capitalism is its lack of social responsibility. As investment continues to move to the global arena, it bears less allegiance to particular locations. The connection between business interests and community interests has been stretched, sometimes to breaking point.

The new social democracy aims to apply the principles of mutual responsibility to the market economy. In recent decades, corporations have won many more rights, particularly the right to trade and invest on a global scale. These rights need to be matched by the exercise of social responsibility. The traditional emphasis on the economic regulation of capital needs to be supplemented by new forms of moral regulation.

Big companies and big government share a common methodology. They rely on standardised rules to deliver a standardised product to a large number of individual clients. This process leaves little room for the development of personal relationships, the mutualism and cooperation upon which a good society relies

One of the characteristics of Information Age politics is a growing sense of self-reliance. With the spread of mass information and education, the public wants to make more of its own judgements, to take greater control of the decision making process.

Collectivism is not dead. It has just changed its organisational structure and values. Instead of supporting large, centralised institutions, the public is in search of meaningful participation, a chance to cut out the middleman and engage in acts of self-governance. Instead of positioning public life as a divisive contest between Left and Right, the electorate wants a new politics of partnership and collaboration.

In the age of globalisation, the politics of neighbourhood matters more, not less. If people are to cross boundaries and reconcile the conflicting loyalties of a complex world, they need to first learn the habits of community and self-governance.

Left-wing politics became obsessed with the size of government. Statism was seen as an end in itself, rather than merely the means to a better society. As a result, the processes of governance, the interactions between people and institutions, were overlooked. Yet in practice, it is these relationships that define our society. They tell us about the level of mutual trust and cooperation between people, about the way in which society is acting on its common aspirations.

The new social democracy is more interested in the processes of governance than the size of government.

There is no set of bureaucratic guidelines for the creation of civic associations and interests. Rather, this process relies on the dispersal of social power: opening up the relationships and forums in which civil society can flourish.

Hierarchy allows power and privilege to be concentrated among the few. A network society disperses economic, social and political power to the many. The new political divide is between insiders and outsiders – those who occupy the centres of authority and influence in society and those who have been disenfranchised by the power elite.

The Third Way is a political cause for outsiders. It aims to democratise power and spread the benefits of ownership as widely as possible. It is against centralisation of any kind, whether in the form of corporate power, super-unions, big government or an out-of-touch political system.

The real challenge is to change by 10 to 20 per cent the way in which society functions. Social democracy needs to free itself from the limits of the state, to rediscover its ambition for social reform. This is why there is so much debate about a Third Way . Those who truly believe in the cause of Labor are not prepared to ignore its policy contradictions. The project needs to be rethought from first principles.

During a time of rapid change, it is not unusual for organisations to define themselves in the negative – to know the things that they oppose but not the things that they favour. This is how the Left now defines itself. Ask a union leader or S11 protestor what they oppose and the list never ends: globalisation, workplace change, enterprise bargaining, share ownership, welfare reform, non-government schools, aspirational politics and so forth. The strongest movement on our side of politics over the past decade has been the rise of Left conservatism.
The new social democracy is a direct response to this trend. As it confronts change, it looks for opportunities rather than threats. At its core, it is optimistic and iconoclastic. It also has a distinctive technique. The Third Way is willing to live on the edge of politics, to look beyond the orthodoxy for new paradigms of reform. It has developed a radical pragmatism, a determination to learn from social practitioners in the search for new forms of collectivism.
In the Information Age, the best approach to reform comes from the fringe of the system, rather than the hierarchies and power plays of conventional politics. There is more to be learned from listening to social and business entrepreneurs than any number of parliamentary sessions, party meetings and interest groups. Entrepreneurs talk a language of change, creativity and enablement. Machine politics, by contrast, has narrowed its conversation to an exchange of slogans, spin and electoral manipulation. This is why the old politics is dying.

An unfinished symphony - anyone game? Or: didn't work and to be discarded? How does it sound to you?

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

I am assuming nothing, F. Kendall. Each paragraph below in italics is like a separate quote in a diary, turn a page (read a different paragraph), get a new quote. It looks like I'm quoting one long passage, but not so. Each paragraph is a separate quote, given for your intellectual pleasure.

To dive deeper, go beyond the norm, feel free to read the whole collection, here.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

F. Kendall , given what you've said about him I'm not sure if I should take that as a compliment.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

Having read the Diaries, my feeling is that he was totally and uncomprehndingly wrapped up in economic rationalism, which left him as far apart from the experence of ordinary people as the rest, that is the Tories and ALP-right and Nat rednecks, especially.

But gee, some of his insights were devastating, particularly referring to influence peddlers in the media and the arcane mindset of the ALP right particularly.

His stuff concerning the treachery of the likes of Bracks and Lennon and the other "groupers", especially during the election particularly involving Tasmanian forests, ought to have any right-thinking objective observer gritting their teeth in anger.

Of course Howard's role concerning Tasmania, including a $4 million "payment" by Howard to the CFMEU forestry division just on the eve of the election, did not come out until a couple of months ago, thanks to Brad Norrington of the Australian and on a separate issue, Claire Miller of the "Age", as per Gunns itself. But these accounts if anything tend to verify somewhat Latham's own account, if not explaining his own thick-headedness.

I think Jane Doe and Dee Bayliss got closest though, as to the mindset. The trouble is, it is all-pervasive, the same sort of culture that ruined HIH and Hardies, or DIMIA, or the courts; it is throughout society and it has been encouraged to fever pitch by the idiots pushing the Expediency-as-God nihilist doctrines of Hobbesian neo liberalism, so that we drown in the Mediated New Selfishness residue left over, proceding from the Death of Memory.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

Margo, I see my post on this link was not published. I assume you thought it too flippant to print but it did have a meaning. The post was "... or maybe he was just a prick".

The point is this. This article is one of the first attempts at what I believe will be a long line of lefties trying to re-write history. A bit like each year on 11 November when history is toyed with by the left to in a purile attempt to iconise Gough. The truth, in both instances, is much simpler. Gough was a clown and Latham was a bigger clown with a larger ego and slightly larger personality disorder.

Let's not rewite ALP history on this one. Let's hope that the ALP learns from its mistakes and avoids placing the country at jeopardy as it did in 1972 and as it did in 2004.

Margo: Hi AM. Surely the Hawke Government showed Labor had learnt heaps from the Gough years. And when Gough got in Labor hadn't been in power for decades.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

New readers might be interested in a previous dialogue we carried in Webdiary addressing the issues of 'Left' and 'Right'. A brief summation of the wash up is that some people regarded the left and right thing as meaningless and out of date, and others felt it is crucial to defining theirs and others' identity and sought to continue talking in those terms.

For what it's worth, in considering the article, my viewpoints on them are in the former group: that people in today's age of information are able to look beyond the blanket left right basis of assessing policy and can look at policy on an issue by issue basis.

An alternative duality was proposed: that we each have a fundamental force of conservatism and creativity within us, and we can look at policy in those terms, equally, and ask ourselves of it:

What do I wish to conserve? What do I wish to have conserved?

What do I wish to create? What do I wish to have created?

Whichever way you view things, the quotes below are interesting in that they attempt to seek a path drawing the value from both the right and the left, and to denounce the failings of each.

For instance, how would you take this quote, from Mark Latham's definitive speech:

I can never understand why so many on the Left are so pessimistic. Their only purpose in public life is the promise of a better past. They are more interested in the history of the 1980s than the possibilities of the Information Age.

This one?

There is more to be learned from listening to social and business entrepreneurs than any number of parliamentary sessions, party meetings and interest groups. Entrepreneurs talk a language of change, creativity and enablement.

And how do you take this one?

The real challenge is to change by 10 to 20 per cent the way in which society functions. Social democracy needs to free itself from the limits of the state, to rediscover its ambition for social reform.

And this?

There is no set of bureaucratic guidelines for the creation of civic associations and interests. Rather, this process relies on the dispersal of social power: opening up the relationships and forums in which civil society can flourish.


Now, with the emergence of mass capitalism, we have an opportunity to use the economic system for egalitarian purposes. Just as capitalism has changed, our strategies for social justice must also change.

There are real dilemmas for the Labor Party. But it is also presented with a sensational opportunity. I don't know if it can achieve it. Can it embrace its past leaders - they cannot be ignored, and won't be allowed to - and reinvent itself for the modern era?

Or has it been rendered defunct by modern times?

Will a new political order as an alternative take its place?

Given the harsh rejection by too many Australians to Howard and Liberal philosophies, there could indeed be an alternative, something which takes the best of it and repackages it along with the best of the collective humanitarian philosophies.

Labor may or may not be able to do it. If so, is there a new political force, an alternative yet to find itself growing in Australia?

There have been no other alternatives given to the Australian people in the last decade - except Mark Latham's. We all know the value of alternatives: it heightens the resultant quality of our political dialogue and we all get a better life.

Is Australia, as Latham says, just too apathetic and given to cheap sensationalistic folly to engage in a better political dialogue?

Or has the time come when, for all our sakes, including the suffering Liberal Party, we have to come into focus and improve our dialogue?

We're coming into Christmas and the silly season: ample reason to forget it all for a while. But rest assured, the next election is pressing hard upon the political players due to the intensity of the changes made, and there is no time to waste for either the Liberals or Labor Party to get its act in order.

It's a challenge, fascinating, and I'm sure we'll rip into it in due course in Webdiary.

For now, in the absolute absence of alternatives, if you feel you wish to throw some thoughts around, enjoy any of the quotes below. Take your pick.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

Is the Pittwater result an example of power devolving down into community hands, as Mark Latham wanted it to? In that the area has rejected big party "trust us" blandishments, and chose the local and known.

Margo: Known and TRUSTED, it seems...

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

Margo, does that mean you agree with me??? Could be time for some retraining for you in Cuba.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

Daphne O'Brien: "Sure he criticised his party members...but I find myself unable to say they didn't deserve it."

I found it interesting that he always seemed to immediately believe all the Iagos whispering evil into his ear, and acted/reacted on this ...without immediately confronting the supposedly guilty...which he doesn't report doing. He believed and acted upon gossip, and vindictively reports it as truth in his diaries

Would you like to outline the reasons why you "believe under Latham we would have had a MUCH better education system for all"?

He can be a "highly intelligent, honest man", and one can still doubt his emotional balance - eg, why he got into such a pother about such as the medias' reaction to the buck's night video. Which he knew did not exist.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

There is one point I would like to add. I didn't see that Mark Latham always planned to have his Diaries published.

Had he been successful at attaining leadership, and there was a strong chance until Howard started using fear tactics in a massive way and the media destroyed what chance he had left, he would not have published his diaries.

That he did so to "set the record straight" for his children was quite understandable for me.

re: Bosler's review of the Latham Diaries

Jane Doe, you say: “The shallowness of Latham is amply demonstrated by his gibe at Howard, that Howard is part of the 'the born to rule mob'.”

One thing I didn’t find was that Mark Latham was shallow. In fact he was a great deal less shallow than many members of parliament right now.

You say: “His diaries show that his career was a personal journey, for and on behalf of himself, not based on any clear thinking, imagination or insight into anything much except his own ambition.”

I didn’t find that at all. I believe under Latham we would have had a MUCH better education system for all, medical facilities would have been better, and he would have been trying for more public awareness and debate about important issues. Rather different than what we have at present. He actually believed in a better future for Australians.

Ann Brookes, I agree 100% with your post. I have read the entire book, and have loaned it out at this time. It’s amazing how many people still run this man down without having a clue as to what he was really about.

I didn’t vote for this man, but after having read “The Loner” and his Diaries, I wish now that I had. He was one politician who didn’t succumb to the lying and hypocrisy most MPs appear to be subject to.

And I believe that any economic ideas he found unworkable, or not in the interests of Australians, would have been changed appropriately.

Did anyone pick up that he mentioned in the Diaries that the top intelligence guy came and told him there were NO WMD in Iraq? I believe he would have had our troops out of there by now.

I also agree with Anne that “Big Brother” will prevent any honest non-usable politician from "making it" as leader. That simply would not do. That’s why they are happy to have KB at the helm.

I wonder, with Pine Gap, a place for them to dump their DU in the NT, and other “goodies” we provide, if in fact America needs us more than we need them in reality. Just a thought…

Getting back to the Diaries, I found Mark’s honesty shone out. And all the criticism by Labor MPs and the media was just talk. They had to. They knew he’d spoken the truth.

Let’s face it. Mark Latham was an idealist, just as he said. He knew that idealists find the defeat of what they believed in was pretty tough to handle, as he pointed out at the end of his book.

Sure he criticised his party members and the media, but I find myself unable to say they didn't deserve it. Labor is a mess and as for the mass media, I refuse to read their lies and innuendo. I get my news from the ABC (better than most) and the net, where I can access newspapers and good articles from all over the world.

I find the more I understand about this highly intelligent, honest man, the more I admire him and believe we’ve lost something quite special from our public life.

Robert Bosler, thank you for an excellent review of Mark Latham’s book. And thanks to Margo Kingston for making the space in which Mr Bosler could say his piece.

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