hey chuck you twerp read this

  1. 4,788 Posts.
    Michael Costello: Latham to fall off the perch

    (Michael Costello is an ALP Beazley man)

    November 26, 2004

    EVERYONE knows a dead parrot when they see one. This applies as much to politics as it does to other walks of life.

    The then Liberal Opposition leader Billy Snedden had one try at an election against Gough Whitlam in 1974. He lost. Everyone knew that his time was up, except Billy.

    The same thing was true after the 1993 election. It was obvious to everyone that John Hewson was a goner, except to John Hewson. It was just a matter of how and when.

    By Christmas 1994, it was obvious that Alexander Downer was about to fall to earth with a crash. And sure enough, he did. Then, and only then, did the Liberals turn, with the utmost reluctance, to the self-styled "Lazarus with a triple bypass", John Howard.

    The thing about political dead parrots is that their supporters stoutly maintain that they are not dead at all. In the words of the immortal Monty Python television sketch, their parrot is not dead -- just "resting", or "pining" or "stunned". The rest of the world, however, knows that in the words of the purchaser of the parrot in that sketch: "He's not pining! He's passed on! This parrot is no more! This is an ex-parrot!!"

    Which brings me to Mark Latham. The script is following its usual course: election lost, lousy polls, speculation in the media and in the past couple of days the leader starts talking about disunity being death.

    How have things come to this pass? We are all familiar now with the litany of mistakes up to and during last month's election, most of which came from him.

    But Latham could have survived these errors. It is his post-election performance that is causing the trouble. He just cannot bring himself to say without qualification that he accepts responsibility. The reason he can't is that he doesn't believe that he is responsible. He believes he did extremely well. That's why he thinks it was the fault of the Labor premiers. Or trade union leaders in Tasmania.

    Or, for heaven's sake, a Liberal scare campaign. What does he think happens in election campaigns? That one's opponents praise you? Of course, they ran a scare campaign on interest rates, just as Labor ran a scare campaign on Peter Costello. One worked, one didn't.

    Latham's post-election efforts to placate business have been so clumsy that he has deeply alienated unions. And it has emerged from careful analysis of public and private polling that Latham seems to have a politically terminal problem with women, who simply find him scary.

    And then you have to add the ill-will he has created, including among his own supporters, by his bungled handling of elections to the shadow ministry and allocation of portfolios. Simon Crean demanded Latham intervene to get him on the front bench, just as he had demanded to be made shadow treasurer in December 2003 regardless of the highly damaging impact both these decisions had on Latham.

    The post-election talk -- that what hurt Labor were doubts about its economic management capacity -- is right, but that's only part of a much bigger problem for Latham. In December 2003 Latham and the Labor Party took a huge gamble. They chose as their new leader someone with only nine years parliamentary experience, no ministerial experience, and who was virtually unknown to the public except as the man with the reputation of being the most abusive and aggressive figure in national politics ever.

    All political experience in Australia shows that a fundamental precondition for a successful leader is that they be someone who has been around in parliament or prominent in public life at a high level for a long time, and who has an image of familiarity, steadiness and experience. Malcolm Fraser was pretty much the same age as Latham when he became Opposition leader in 1975 and crushed Whitlam, but he had been in parliament for some 20 years.

    Had Latham waited 10 years, who knows what he might have developed into as a leader? But if the political tram comes past early and you jump on board as Latham did, you take the high risk of having gone when you are not ready and having your political leadership ambitions smashed beyond repair. Of course, if you don't take the chance, you might end up being frustrated like Costello, who passed up his chances in 1994 and 1995.

    No one knows how or when Latham will go or who will succeed him. Kim Beazley has said flatly he will not challenge, and he means it. Wayne Swan and Stephen Smith are going to keep their heads down, work like mad and keep their mouths firmly shut in public and in private, except to pledge their undying fealty to the leader.

    With foreign affairs no longer on the front burner, Kevin Rudd's chances to shine are greatly diminished. Lindsay Tanner is of the Left, and that rules him out. But it will happen. Latham will go, because as a political leader Mark Latham is a dead parrot. And at a certain point he is too smart not to recognise it.

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