Neal Blewett reviews 'Losing It: The inside story of the Labor party in opposition' by Annabel Crabb, 'Loner: Inside a Labor tragedy' by Bernard Lagan, and 'The Latham Diaries' by Mark Latham

Although you might not guess it from media comment, The Latham Diaries (MUP, $39.95 hb, 429 pp, 0522852157) is the most important book yet published on Labor’s wilderness years. It provides a pungent characterisation of Labor’s post-1996 history; conveys a profound understanding of the challenges facing a social democratic party in contemporary Australia; and its damning account of Labor’s feuds, machinations, and toxic culture suggests why the party is incapable of meeting those challenges. It is also the most rancorous and at times rancid memoir ever penned by an Australian politician. For someone so sensitive to invasions of his own privacy, Latham throws around personal slurs and innuendoes with much abandon. Yet his effective use of a larrikin argot lends the book a gritty authenticity rare in such writing. Much black humour and some telling stories move the book along with a compelling pace until it is finally overwhelmed by self-pity, blustering defiance, and denial.

The diaries are not a set of regular daily entries but rather occasional jottings that appear to have undergone a degree of stylistic polishing. Sporadic in the early years, by 1998 they average about one a week. Although the entries are supposedly uncut, it is unclear whether any have been omitted. Some report the events of a single day; others cover a week or more. There are also hints throughout the diary of a greater degree of retrospectivity.

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Published in November 2005, no. 276
Neal Blewett

Neal Blewett

Neal Blewett has had a varied career as academic, politician, and diplomat. A Tasmanian Rhodes scholar, he taught successively at the Universities of Oxford and Adelaide and became Professor of Political Theory and Institutions at Flinders University. He has written books and articles on British and Australian history and politics. As Health Minister in the Hawke government he was responsible for the introduction of Medicare and Australia’s Aids policy. His diary of the Keating government was published in 1999. From 1994 to 1998 he was Australian High Commissioner in London as well as a member of the Executive Board of the World Health Organization. He now writes, gardens, and walks in the Blue Mountains.

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