Say what you can about the shambling former Labor leader Mark Latham these days, but his diaries make for an interesting read, in the light of Kevin Rudd’s recent actions. We can see that Latham loathes Rudd with a passion – and we need to see Latham’s words in that light. Rudd’s actions as described in the diaries, however, don’t surprise, considering his performance as Prime Minister and in recent times. The diaries provide a picture of a man willing to do whatever it takes to make himself look good, but be a shambolic mess behind the scenes.
Latham likes to refer to Rudd as a machine man, an elitist in the Rodney Cavalier / Bob Carr mould – but one with constant ambition and “insatiable for publicity”. A key moment that reveals Rudd’s ambition on p. 249, where Latham is referring to the leadership ballot where Latham was made leader, he thanks “Heavy Kevvy” for staying in the ballot, despite never having more “than six or seven votes” and mentions him “kicking along the generational change argument”, ending with the comment that it was “amazing that journalists couldn’t see through him. Two factors: they are dumb and lazy, and Rudd is a fanatical media networker. He is addicted to it, worse than heroin”.
Rudd’s propensity for self aggrandisement is covered on p. 256, where we have the story of Rudd wanting to be made “Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Security”, but then threatening to go to the backbench because Robert McClelland’s job title also had the word security in it. Latham “thought it was some kind of joke, but the crazy bastard was serious”.
The suspicion people currently have about Rudd’s relationship with the media is explored in the later stages of Latham’s diary. We have on p. 280 an interesting passage “I’ve had a suspicion for some time now that Rudd has been feeding material to Oakes. Decided to set him up, telling Kevvie about our focus groups on Iraq. No such research exists… Today, right on cue, Jabba (Oakes) was written in the Bulletin: ‘The Labor Party’s polling firm has…’ Oakes seems to still have that relationship with Rudd.
Latham also reveals some interesting insights into the idea of Rudd presenting a facade with little going on inside, with his assessment of Rudd’s performance in the 2004 Election Campaign. (p. 356) “Publicly, he promised to produce a White Paper on foreign policy. Privately, he told me he had been hoping for an early election, so he wouldn’t have to do it. Finally, he produced a draft document… the material was unusable; wads of commentary about world events but next to no policy. As [National Secretary of the ALP Tim] Gartrell points out from our polling, the public like Rudd, but they think he’s a commentator, not a political advocate… more than anyone else in Caucus, Rudd has worked the media, trying to convince them that my policy ideas are inconsistent… He doesn’t write books or policy material, and never will.”
The most telling and damning part of Latham’s description of Rudd comes with his response to a story in The Australian which said that Rudd was saying that if he didn’t get the job of Shadow Treasurer, he would go to the backbench (p. 364). When Rudd saw Latham in order to lobby for the job, Latham says Rudd “went into a long explanation of why he’s so wonderful. When he finished, I put my cards on the table: that I regard him as disloyal and unreliable, and he only holds his frontbench position because of his media profile and public standing among people who have never actually met him.”
When told of Latham’s intention to make him go to the backbench, Rudd “broke down badly, sobbing over the recent death of his mother, just before polling day. Rudd was in a very fragile condition. I told him to leave work and go back to Brisbane to rest with his family. But he wouldn’t give up. Even though he was crying, he kept on lobbying to be Shadow Treasurer. It was becoming quite sad. Then he said words that I will never forget: ‘I swear on my mother’s grave that The Australian’s story is wrong, totally wrong, and that I’ve been loyal to you and will continue to be loyal to your leadership.”
Latham responds to this comment with “I don’t mind people bullshitting to me in politics, but not this. Last week, he rang around Caucus to gauge the mood after our loss, and told Trish Crossin that my leadership was on notice: I had until the Budget Reply speech next May to prove myself. He’s always bagging me to journalists and that’s not going to change any time soon. I don’t trust him, no matter what he says.”
When I read Latham’s Diaries for the first time, I wondered why he ever wanted to become leader. But he was a fighter, a maddie and power hungry like most other politicians appear to be. Unlike a lot of ALP supporters, I didn’t mind Latham, due to his background as a outer suburban politician – though, in retrospect, he would have been a disastrous PM – and probably would have been toppled before the end of a first term. When Rudd became leader instead of Gillard in 2006, however, Latham’s words rang like an alarm bell for me in regards Rudd. When Rudd ran his risk averse, Howard-lite, everything focused on Kevin campaign in 2007, Latham’s words stuck like glue. They still do. Rudd has done very little that would distance him from what Latham has said about him in his diaries. Rudd’s media cheer squad haven’t changed that much from the judgment and commentary Latham offers. We can expect to hear a lot more from them in the next four days.