Mark Latham, a man rejected, scorns a love he lost

JOHN from Ferntree Gully thought he had the answer to the Mark Latham phenomenon.
John had a friend who developed chronic pancreatitis as a side-effect of mumps. For six years, his friend “was ill beyond all previous experience”. In that time he also blew up every relationship he had: “He alienated all his friends, both business and personal.”
Four years later, torn by regret, the friend rang all those people and apologised for what he had done.
John told ABC radio host Jon Faine yesterday, “Not to put too (fine) a point on it, I think Mark Latham is in a similar situation. I think he’s quite ill.”
“We shall ask him,” promised Faine, who was about to interview the bovver-booted angry man of Australian politics. But Mark Latham exhibited the same granite intransigence that had carried him through his interview with ABC TV’s Andrew Denton. He refused to be drawn on the question of any relationship between his health and the highly publicised bile of The Latham Diaries, his account of his crash and burn as Labor leader in the wake of the last federal election.
“Are you paranoid?” Faine asked him, in a pleasant tone that almost took the bite out of it.
“No, not at all,” Latham said matter-of-factly, as if he is asked this every day (which he probably has been of late).
“Are you depressed?” Faine pressed.
Here, curiously, the answer was not a direct “No”. In fact, Mark Latham passed right over the opportunity to wave a banner for the serene state of his own mental wellbeing or, at the very least, to fend off claims of wounded narcissism. Instead, he grabbed the chance for another free kick against his old rival Kim Beazley, repeating his claim that “Mr Decency” had failed to telephone suicidal MP Greg Wilton and offer him support when he needed it most.
Feminists used to say that the personal is political. For Mark Latham the political is still very, very personal. All through yesterday’s interview, his voice was calm and measured but his comments scathing. He spoke with the bitterness of a lover who has been discarded and defamed, but in his case the love was a cause – the Labor politics to which he had given his adult life.
Like Dickens’ Miss Havasham, sitting broken-hearted beside her cobwebbed wedding cake, Latham warned the young not to delude themselves into following the path that gave him so much heartache. “A young intelligent person who cares about the community and has a young family – I’d advise them not to go into politics. I’d advise them don’t set yourself up for media voyeurism, be aware of the impact this has on family.
“You can learn something out of my failed political career to that extent . . . Do things outside the cesspit of Australian politics.”
He was an angry man with a flamethrower. Journalists? Sensationalistic, intrusive voyeurs. Faine protested that, at the time he was campaigning as leader, Latham had actually played on his novelty value to score media exposure. Latham responded by talking over him.
The Labor Party? The Liberal Party? Both tarred with the same brush, he said, full of “voyeurs and sickos” who enjoy spreading sexual innuendo about political opponents. “There’s a sickness right across the political spectrum . . . There are no standards, no boundaries, no rules, no ethics. It’s whatever it takes to get power and hang on to it.”
The man who has called a pox on both their houses is a long way from any remorseful phone call.

First published in The Age.