Bad eggs, Latham

It is hard to imagine a better illustration of the slow, bleak decline of our politics than the roboticised voice of Mark Latham imploring voters to elect One Nation.

The former leader of the Labor Party, a protégé of Gough Whitlam, the man who wrote Civilising Global Capital, is shilling for a party of racists and cranks. Here we are at the ugly, arm-breaking end of the taxi ride that has been his time in public life. Here is Mark, flushed-faced and sweating, arguing over the fare.

Latham says he recorded a second message, this time for the Liberal Democrats, a party to which he also has membership. Here lies this country’s one-time preferred prime minister. Here lies the dignity of our sad, broken politics.

In Longman, where the Latham calls are playing, One Nation has preferenced Jim Saleam ahead of Labor. For those who don’t remember, Saleam spent the 1980s wearing a swastika on his arm. He went to prison for his role in a shotgun attack on a representative of the African National Congress. As Latham’s recording says: “Please support minor parties and independents to shake up the system and put some honest politics back into Canberra.”

Latham is tragedy and farce in a single body. On Sky News he and Graham Richardson scream defamations at each other, two crows hopping and squabbling over a carcass. Here is the sustaining shame of this country, the culture of rewarded failure that sees these relics still shaping what we are. A man with no morals argues against a man with no brain. It has the quality of a sideshow amusement. It is also our democracy.

The jokes were never funny and now they have come to life. Peta Credlin sits down to write a book titled On Character. Her publisher asks if “the idea of a person of good character disappeared in the era of personality politics”.

At time of writing, promotional material for the book had been removed from the publisher’s website. Perhaps out of shame. In Australian politics, this is not thought of as ironic. Australian politics doesn’t have the subtlety for irony. You promise character and then you take it away and it just is.

The same publisher gave this country The Latham Diaries and Tony Abbott’s Battlelines manifesto and a working substitute for intellectual life. We are drowning in a soup bowl of ideas.

On Twitter he is “Real Mark Latham”, as if the rest of the time it was an act. Unmasked, he is a Rivers catalogue of cruel misogyny and transphobic venom, a man who wears wraparound sunglasses and believes brown is colourful. He mocks schoolchildren and working mothers, disbelieves psychiatry and demands that everyone speak English.

Mark Latham is a gout on our politics. But the whole Falstaffian body is set with pox. It is a picture of sad urges and failing organs. Its ills trace back to men such as Mark, to the basement out of which he now broadcasts, but they do not end there.

Watching as children were freed from a cave in Thailand, the capacity of the human spirit for good flickered and lit. The editor of this country’s premier journal of conservative thought disagreed, however. “It wasn’t a bunch of gender-fluid divers that went down there,” Rowan Dean said. “It wasn’t a bunch of touchy-feely identity politics, diverse and inclusive, unconscious bias mob who saved those boys’ lives. It was solid Western know-how and technology.”

Sometimes it really feels as if all the world’s ills can be traced back to middle-aged men clinging desperately to their relevance, men whose anxieties about equality smother all else. These men are busy placing robocalls from the graves of their careers.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 14, 2018 as "Bad eggs, Latham".

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